Sunday, 15 June 2014

Shampoo and Fairy Lights

A couple of posts ago I talked about finding your crowd - your fellow kite flyers.

This time I'm going to talk about what it's like when you can't find them anywhere, and then maybe what to do about it. I'm all about action, not words, after all.

Amongst the many bazillion pseudo-inspirational quotes going around these days, one quotation that has stuck with me is this: 

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

- George Bernard Shaw

If dear George is to be believed, then being an uppity know-it-all who wants to do things differently from everyone else is actually a good thing when it comes to changing the world. I have never been anything but an uppity know-it-all who wants to DO things, and I've always been made to feel that this was something to be ashamed of. The quote above makes me think that maybe there is value in not being like everyone else.

Yes, being uppity may upset a few people

Not Being Like Everyone Else is an easy thing to feel, but not an easy thing to do. Being the only one disagreeing, out loud, in a group environment is hard. Thinking that you disagree is easy. Walking out of a class you think is a waste of time takes courage and a certain amount of self-assured uppityness. Sitting through it wishing you weren't there is not brave, but it is easier than being looked at funny or talked about afterwards. The result of each of these actions is probably going to be the same - you get nothing from the lecture - so why is it so hard for us to act as we wish to, not as we are expected to?

Do you remember that point in your adult life when you realised that there was actually no one set of Universal Rules? Maybe it was when you lived by yourself for the first time and realised that Brushing Your Teeth Before Bed was not actually a hard and fast Rule, but something that your mother enforced on you? That dinner didn't have to happen if you didn't want it to, making your bed was optional, decorating your apartment in fairy lights 12 months of the year was you choice to make and that if you damn well wanted to leave the windows open when it rained, you would! Doing what you want to do feels good. Not having to please Mum, Dad or anyone else is freeing and also slightly scary. You experiment and become more like yourself.

Free to use fairy lights whenever I like!

Soon enough though, rules creep back in again, stealthy and sinister...

Finding people who value the same things as you makes you feel comfortable. Being around people who do not value what you do, and do not like the idea of fairy lights all year, is very uncomfortable. When you are stuck in a group, or a work place, or a classroom, with the anti-fairy-lights committee, it's sometimes easier to go along with them than have to take a stand on your view of annual fairy light display. "Who cares?" you will say, "It's just a silly thing I like to do, I can forget that I want this if it means acceptance." Soon enough, you find yourself in another group, or work place, or classroom, and this time the Bed Makers are on the march. You know that the guy you talked to at lunch doesn't make his bed either, and that you both think it's kind of funny that they take Bed Making so seriously, but you go back in to the room where the Decisions are being made and neither of you say anything. You are just two lazy duvet throwers in cahoots. Your ideas are condemned and the Rule Makers march on. But we know that there really is no such thing as Rules, they are just ideas that a group legitimises via their declared majority consensus. Much like democracy. So why do you feel bad when you go home and see your fairy lights still up and your bed a mess? You never used to care before the Anti-Fairy-Lights Committee and the Bed Makers expressed their opposition to your ways so vehemently.

At this point you might be thinking, Nicole, these examples are ridiculous. People have to make compromises all the time to get along, and this is a terrible story. Well, dear reader, those examples are meant to be ridiculous. Let me tell you why.

Heuristic reflex for Australians, cognitive process for visitors

Abiding by general rules, or heuristics, is how humans, with our majestically powerful brains, cope with life and prevent ourselves becoming so overwhelmed with minutiae that we can't make choices at all. It's the reason why I drive my car on the left side of the road everyday, why I don't smoke cigarettes and why I get so upset when the supermarket doesn't have the particular type of shampoo I use - if they don't stock the pink bottle of Palmolive that smells like strawberry, that I have already tested out and decided I like based on cost, hair shininess and smell, it means I have to think about which shampoo I want to use all over again, and this stresses my reptilian brain out. I am forced to come to a new conclusion based on what is presented in front of me, or go home with no shampoo, which is obviously not an acceptable outcome.

What makes one decision able to be made via short cut or heuristic neural pathway, and another require careful days of thoughtful consideration? Your humble psychoanalyst here thinks it has to do with the amount of concern you have for the outcome. If I decide to go with Herbal Botanicals shampoo in the case of Palmolive not being available, my life will probably keep going ok. When you decide to pack up your books and walk out of the lecture that is boring you to tears, you may have more repercussions to deal with. What I'm afraid of is that you will someday care as much about the value of your time that is being wasted in a lecture as you do about which shampoo you choose to buy this week. That you will start short-cutting the important decision making by using general rules rather than your own cognitive processes. That you will stop realising that there are no rules, really, and keep quiet about your love of fairy lights all year long.

The examples I used in this post may be ridiculous, but they are meant to be ridiculous in such a way that they reflect the very personal elements that make someone unique. The quirky, personal idiosyncrasies are the things that no one should compromise in order to fit in. Value what you like and do not like. Value the personality you have. Adapt and break rules as you see fit in order to be the best version of you there is. Because here's the rub - if you don't, after a while you won't really exist at all anymore. Someone who used to do the things you like will be all there is left, and that's a poor compromise for being accepted by people who never liked fairy lights in the first place.

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