Saturday, January 28, 2006

well behaved (people) never make history

i recently received a letter asking me about the subject of fitting in.
i declare that the investment of being socially accepted has little or no return; in other words the value of fitting in makes no logical sense in the course of time.
yet we persist to no avail.
i remember the two events that led to my eventual departure from the ‘popular crowd’ to the separation of their church and my state.
i was in 8th grade, dennison middle school, mrs. h’s class. her history classes were rather boring, and being that i was of the hyperactive mentality i was not doing so well.
because i came from (at that time) a lower socioeconomic status, where money was reserved for more important staples like milk, bread, and cheerios. needless to say my fashion sense suffered, and i felt inadequate next to the children of the upper class. one night my family set out to lakeland (an adjacent town) to visit ross, a discount clothing store for discontinued or disfigured garments. for us this was a big deal since it was one step up from goodwill or the salvation army. being that i desired so desperately to attend the surrounding style i knew i had to buy a ‘tommy hilfiger’ (an ‘all american’ apparel company) anything or everything.
my family gave me the usual spending limit and i had abandon all other staples, (such as socks, undergarment, and cheerios) for one and only one shirt. it was red and white striped, long sleeved tommy hilfiger shirt. i didn't want the shirt because it looked ‘cool’, in retrospect it may have been the worst piece ever in my wardrobe even at that time. i desired the shirt beyond anything because it had the hilfiger symbol on the left pocket that symbolized to all others “i am of worth,’ or so i desperately wanted. it didn’t.
you see all the lines in the shirt were vertical red and white but on the right sleeve the lines irregularly tilted towards the vertical. i thought no one would notice, i hoped that they would just concentrate on the branding i bought myself into. so here i spent all of my money in one place, on one shirt, and yet they did not focus on my new found importance, but that one sleeve did not match the rest of the shirt.
to this day, if anyone knows me personally they could tell you that i don’t wear any clothing where there is a symbol or branding of any company anywhere on my clothes if i can help it at all. i never want someone to feel less important or desirable even if your outfit may look the same as mine, but i announce to the world that i paid more by hosting a logo.
the second major event in the series of lifelong heckling happened around the same time. i wore payless boat shoes, not because they have ever been a fashion icon but because at pay-less shoe stores they cost about US13$. they were blue and the white sides would begin to crumble and virtually peel off as soon as you carried them outside the store.
a popular girl named amanda, whom i never will forget, made sure that when i walked into class the following day that she point it out to the entire classroom. “hey stephen, nice nike’s.” it was in that moment of collective classroom laughter that i realized that it was all pointless, i had tried the business of fitting in for years and no matter how hard i tried to buy into the system, the system never invested into me. from then on i converted the majority of my clothing to black, read and wrote, kept my head down, and was known as ‘the quiet kid’ in my high school career.
but looking back i would not have had it any other way. you see, the more i study history the more i realize that those who live their lives in the pursuit of making others accept them never make history at all. they have concentrated on promoting themselfs socially and not on what truly matters (such as knowledge, wisdom, and understanding).
look through history, it is the ‘troublemakers’ that stand out and change the world; some for good, some for worse. as a bumper sticker i once read exclaimed “well behaved women never make history.”
ghandi stood up. innocently enough through peaceful means he took down the british empire in india. the caste system he was born into made it readily available to live a very comfortable lifestyle, one that the british rule would not affect much. he could have ‘fit in’ or been comfortable in the situation he was in.
but... he didn’t stay in the mold, or follow the sheep. he became an individual.
one person -making history.
the list of men and women like this goes on; from joan of arc to martin luther each standing up as an individual. each not letting those that surround them (or the popular opinion) sway who they were or who they became.
time has taught me many lessons. but instead of going along with what others demanded of me socially i was freed to (as my mother would say) march to the beat of a different drummer. one of my greatest accomplishments is the fact that i turned my back on what others wanted me to become and in exchange changed into what i knew i could become. i am my own budha, i am my own judas iscariot, i am my own worst nightmare and best dream. i am a colossal failure, i am my greatest success, but at the end of the day i am me.
i am me.
be who you are.

35 comments:

Meggios said...

"Even if you have two days to live, I don't think you should leave this life without knowing how far you can go."
-Paulo Coelho
"Veronika decides to die"

I think it is very important to be individualistic & not worry about what other people around you think. I think we are surrounded by too many made-up etiquette rules by society. Why is it that we need to feel like we must "fit in" by what society says is normal? What is normal anyways? The greatest people in history would be considered crazy if you think about it. Christopher Columbus thought that there was no abyss, but other contintents across the ocean. Some people probably thought Picasso was crazy for painting his weird abstract images.
I think we should live our life to the fullest, living to be the person God created us to be. We should not conform to the ideals of this world, but rather think outside of the box. Be the next person who invents or writes something that inspires the world.

inevitable said...

thank you for touching so many peoples lives. you have influenced so many people to be who they want to be. i hope that one day someone can touch yours.

iLikePi3 said...

What can be easy to forget in these kinds of discourses, however, is that individuality comes hand in hand with at least partial isolation and separation. While you will probably find like-minded companions along the way, there is a reason that people try to fit in - because of the desire for acceptance.

So while I wholeheartedly agree that non-conformity is something to strive for, it can be easy to wash over the difficulties associated with it. Perhaps we all need to recognise others around us who are embracing these ideals and make conscious efforts to encourage them, as well as ensuring that we ourselves refrain from the very attitudes we are rejecting - that of judging or treating people based on anything other than their inherent worth as a person.

Dutch Not German said...

I'm sure almost everyone has the list of silly things they did in order to feel as though they were accepted, wanted, and desired. I know I do. Acceptance is a powerful motive to do a lot of things we will regret.

Funny thing is, the second I decided that I LOVED being a huge geek, and accepted that who I was was God-given and wonderful, I found a group of people who accepted me for who I am. Granted, we aren't the "popular" kids, but we share values and love for one another. You don't have to give up acceptance to be well-behaved.

deb said...

you don't have to fit in to be accepted. being unique gets you noticed and a person can use his/her uniqueness to influence his/her world. i guess experiences opportunities play a huge role in whether you are able to use your uniqueness in the way you want or need to.

janjeera said...

I've done countless things to try and be accepted and fit in. Most involve keeping my mouth shut and going with the flow, even when I feel in my gut that I shouldn't. That was a great entry, and I must say I feel inspired to do what moves me, to listen to my own angels and demons.

Lindsay said...

I've been trying to figure out what's been turning a once unique and dependent girl, into my current "got to follow the crowd" self. And now I see.

Thank you for this entry, Stephen.

charlieeee said...

intresting,encouraging & challenging post
Im still trying to digest it

Kaila said...

I think this is one of your best posts on here. I am going to print it out and keep it forever. Being a teenager I know how it is trying to fit in. 4th-8th grade I wanted nothing more than to be popular. If someone "popular" did something rude to me that morning, my whole day would have been ruined. I sucked up to the popular kids, and whenever I made friends with one, it was the coolest thing ever. I just loved how I could say "that popular person over there is my friend". Over the summer I was starting to get out of that. I found myself and who I wanted to be, you, your blog and your music was a big help along the way. But my point is, now in ninth grade I do not care anymore. I buy the clothes I want to wear, I act how I want and I do my own thing. And let me tell you I am so much happier this way. I have learned that if I have to change who I am to get people to like me then I would rather be myself and not be liked at all so I can be at least honest with myself. I know the friends I have like me for me and it's comforting to know I have people who appriciate me for who I am, not for someone I am trying to be.

Kaila

thebeautiful_letdown said...

right on.
thanks for being you, Stephen.
Love your work!

nicole said...

thank you

Anonymous said...

I always wanted to go against the grain. Call it an independent/free spirit or whatnot....I just wanted to be countercultural. To go the narrow way that few find and not the wide path that leads to destruction...that place everyone is falling all over themselves and others while trying to follow the crowd to.

My mother helped me with this as she raised me to respect everyone equally from the president of the united states to my favorite actor/singer to the person next store, to the person on the street, to all the different kinds of people at school and to not think of them as more or less, but to recognize their uniqueness and unique realm of influence.

One time in junior high, when going to a concert, (she had to drive me b/c I was not yet 16) she said to me and my friends as we were quite awe struck..."Remember they are just people like you. They sit on the toilet and poop everyday just like everyone else. They are no less special or more special than you." And from somewhere around that time, I have understood that we all are...amazingly...people!

I am still inspired, have appreciation and great respect for everyone who is being their self and fulfilling their given role in the world and also appreciation for those who don't know who they are yet (as I am still finding this out myself). But I will no longer judge myself by the mold of another or look at someone as better or worse for some superficial reason.

We are not one in a million. We are one in 8 billion and our individual blueprints are different from everyone else in the world and in history. There is a reason for that. We are created to enjoy and be enjoyed by God and others. We should be excited about that....

This is not to say that I haven't struggled either...just that over time I have been learning that I am made the way I am on purpose and born into this family for a reason...I have been placed on earth at this time in this location for such a time as this-- and only I can touch lives in the unique way that I do and only I can touch God in the unique way that I do.

Dang, I feel pretty good about that. Well... let me encourage all of you that you are pretty dang awesome, too!

Sarah W.

Anonymous said...

wow, thanks for like explaining my life man. i used to go to the same type stores, up north they have a chain of stores called Mardens. I desperately looked for a pair of nike shoes there. the prices were good and finally my parents would buy me some nikes. the only pair they did have were hideous and not even my size. i was in sixth grade at the time and the ruthless behavior of middle school had set it and i just NEEDED these shoes. i actually cried in the store because my parents refused to buy me shoes that didn't fit me, regardless of what amazing logo was branded onto them.
good move on their part. i was ridiculous.
but the truth is, i'm here at liberty university where you and anberlin played not too long ago (which was amazing, by the way) and even though we are all supposedly mature adults finding the path towards our future, so many people are stuck in this same groove of pouring all they can into impressing people. and the truth is, i've only been here a few months and have not made a whole lot of friends. but the friends i do have, most of them are back home in florida (where i saw anberlin the 9 other times i've seen you guys in concert....i miss the social) they are worth having. and i will not fake who i am, i will not buy clothes so other people will like them, i will not bust my butt to be liked by people who are shallow enough to judge someone based on such trivial things.
well, you already painted the big picture better than i ever could, but i completely second everything that you said. great job.

Nicole said...

Wow, what a great entry Stephen. I can relate to it because I got kicked out of my school (which was a private school) because I refused to be anything other than myself.

Anonymous said...

That entry made me exceedingly happy; Thank you for sharing that.

dani said...

your words continually amaze me! I am so excited for the day your book is published!

MH said...

The funny thing about 'being yourself' is that it's so much easier said than done.

In some cases, when you honestly intend to be yourself, you end up accidentally exchanging one mask for another. Usually that's the same me that has a hard time remembering who the real me is.

It's so much easier (and more painful in the end) to find identity in other things: friends, accomplishment, being part of the 'in crowd,' accolades, prowess in a certain area (or being good at everything)...the list goes on and on.

To the brave souls who keep their identity more easily, I take off my hat to you.

As for myself, God and I are still trying to rediscover who MH really is. Don't worry though; I have full confidence that God will work it out and with His help I may just find that person again.

rockstar said...

i totally know where youre coming from with the public humiliation in middle school/highschool/etc.
funny thing is, as you said it, i wouldnt have it any other way. ive always enjoyed being different...people that are all alike suck. lol.
keep up the good work.
-rockstar-

Anonymous said...

"im unique, just like everyone else"

Keith said...

hmmmm

Being a misfit at school and praising the heroic actions of "indviduals" standing up against the evils of the world is not a good reason to cling to being an individual and ignore social acceptance. More thought is needed.

Social acceptance and individuality are not opposite forces. sometimes they can come into conflict, but mostly they are compatible.

As you found out, wearing the right clothes does not buy you social acceptance. One will often find that when you find your own individuality and you find your own self security that you gain social acceptance, people will start to respect who you are. But if your trying to find social acceptance in a group of people who dont have their own self security (as is often the case at school) you can become an outsider.

The great individuals who have changed the world have stood up as individuals and gained social acceptance of their beliefs and values. They often have really good skills at talking with other people and sharing their passion.

It is all too dangerous to claim indviduality as a way of avoiding our uncomfortablness with social interaction. We should embrace our unique individual self and then embrace those around us and learn to share of ourselves and learn and listen to others.

Anonymous said...

I have nothing outstanding to say at all... no quotes or anything like that, only to say that I am that same kid. I went though things that were identicle to the story you have here, and I agree whole heartedley. When I was in school I was picked on for whatever I did, no matter what it was. I resorted to laughter however. If people laughed at me, I would turn it around with a joke, or a stupid comment and make them laugh with me... So yeah... I hated that I didn't fit in, and to this day I can still remember certain instances of when I was being made fun of.

kris said...

Darn good post if i do say so.

Plaudits for always keepin it real Stephen.

Robyn said...

This is really weird, do you know the whole week of your Australian tour, the whole deal my friends and i had, was me telling them exactly this. "Be who you are, be true to your self, don't conform, stand own your own two feet with your head held high" And now i read this on your blogspot.

You are amazing Stephen

Just so you know dude, if you lived in Australia, no one would've paid you out for wearing "Payless Shoes" because Payless shoes are cool here. :)

One of the best heels i've ever purchased are from there. And i love saying when people ask how much they were, "only $30"
I don't think our Society in australia are all about "how much money you spent" but more so "how much you saved". Perhaps another reason why you should move here hahaha :P

Kylie!! said...

I wish I knew you beyond the one time you hugged me after a show in Denver. I love how well grounded and self assured you are. It's moving. And that is the truth.

Anonymous said...

You are such an amazing writter and I love you PYT

vicky said...

That's one of my favorite quotes (it's from Marilyn Monroe by the way, in case you were wondering).
I still have to admit that I struggle to not worry about fitting in. But, I'm trying. Society is just always pushing it at us. Saying that the right shoes or hair will buy happiness.
It won't.

mistygardens said...

This was a really beautiful entry. I found my eyes tearing up a few different times. I went through a lot of humiliation growing up, and some of it really scarred me; but some of it showed me that the freedom that comes to you when you're not trying to conform to a particular mold. I always felt very alone in my humiliation, especially when I went to a private, Christian junior high school. My parents had just enough money to make ends meet and put me in this school. They didn't have enough to keep me dressed in brand names like all the other kids, and I felt very much on the outside because of that too. What I've realized since is that had my parents bent over backward to clothe me in the latest style to help me be just like everyone else, I don't think I'd have really found ME. I don't know if that makes sense.. but in not fitting into the mold, I found who I was. I admit I still struggle to gain approval from people at times, but that's human nature. I would honestly rather lose acceptance from people and be able to accept myself, than to lose myself in pursuit of "fitting in." I think through Jesus I have great worth, and it would really be ashame to lose that for popularity's sake.
Anyway, thank you for making me think. You are a beautiful writer, and a beautiful person, and I thank you for sharing your heart and thoughts here.

<3
Melissa

Anonymous said...

That was wonderful.

Tracy said...

You have no idea how much I appreciate your down to earth honesty. You are so right-on, and I have had similar experiences growing up. Unfortunately, when I was younger, I conceded to the peer pressure, but even now, as I get older, I am realizing what truly matters. I wish I could say I always kept this at the forefront of my mind. Thank you so much for the encouragement and the reminder! I really needed this.

Moe said...

I find it rather interesting and amusing that you promote being who you are (something easier said than done) yet so many follow your example, thereby copying you.

But I think that maybe that's a good thing.

Jenn said...

what an amazing post. growing up in a family that could barely afford food, i went through some of those struggles "fitting in."

i am so glad that my eyes have been opened. clothes are just a trend, one week from another. brands do not show everyone who we truly are.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for that post, Stephen... that was definitely one of the best stories/pieces of advice I've heard so far. Thank you.

Jordan said...

What a wonderful post. I know it sounds cheesy, but I can relate to the story, especially all the elementary/middle school stuff. It was at this time I tried so desperately to fit in yet nothing came through the way I wanted it to. Even if this was about 4 years ago, I still think about it to this day (how's that for optimism?) When it came time for high school, and when I left all my original friends when I moved, I started becoming the person I wanted to be rather than fitting into a crowd which had no interest in who I was or what I had to say.

Keep up the posts, and thank you.

Anonymous said...

I realize this blog is very old, but new to me. This happened to me as well. My family wasnt exactly poor, my dad was just very tight with the finances and so he put my mother on a budget and we were only allowed to get certain things, which of course the money was never enough. But, my mom did her best. I lived in a nice neighborhood and all of my friends were well off, and wore the popular fashions, not me.
I had to wear mostly t-shirts and polyester pants, and things my mom made, which up until 5th grade was bearable.
But, the 5th grade came and things changed. I was always still fairly popular due to the fact that I was pretty, but my clothes were not, and it started bothering me. But, over time I decided that I wasnt going to let others tell me what was in or not. I started to go through my moms clothes and the hand me downs that we got and make my own fashions. I remember one year after my mom and dad divorced things were really bad, and I was invited to one of my friends' halloween parties and of course they all had money and great costumes. So, I had to make my own and it was the most original at the party.
Everyone wondered where I got my clothes, and when I told them that I made them myself they wanted me to help them with their clothes.
It was very interesting and made me a non-conformist. I became a very strong person due to being poor and never gave in to peer pressure because of it.
I have passed that down to my children and see that strong side in them, and it makes me happy. And my oldest daughter is going to be a fashion major.
We are all different and trying to please others instead of just being ourselves never ever makes things better. Being different should be celebrated and shows us that God does exist and loves variety.
:)

Story of a Girl said...

i was (still am) the quiet kid too, lol. Loved when you said, "if anyone knows me personally they could tell you that i don’t wear any clothing where there is a symbol or branding of any company anywhere on my clothes if i can help it at all. i never want someone to feel less important or desirable even if your outfit may look the same as mine" You are one awesome individual !