To Conform, or not to Conform….
This is not a post where you will find answers. In fact, this is written with the hope that your responses will help me find some answers. [ Day 7of “One Day, One Blog”]
I must have been around 10 or 11, when my Dad’s friend suggested that my parents should get professional help for my chronic shyness.
Looking back, I can’t say I blame that uncle entirely. My parents and I lived in a 3 BHK in Abu-Dhabi at the time. Once when we had visitors, my mom came looking for me. She found me sitting atop a pile of linen in the closet — reading “Nancy Drew”. This is one of the many stories that have been circulated in conversations about my childhood under the hashtags of #Rubyschildhood and #ChronicShynessinchildren.
Listening to that man, I could see that my parents were worried. Very worried! If I could take a snapshot of their mind at that point in time, it would have been the image of my value crashing in the marriage market. No need to go to a psychiatrist or psychologist, the mere suggestion of it was enough to condemn the 10 year old me to the lowest rungs o the totem pole. But then, my parents and my well-wisher “uncle” were wrong.
I wasn’t really shy.
I just didn’t like most people. Sorry, that’s too harsh. I found most of them boring. These people didn’t pique my curiosity and I didn’t find it worthwhile to interrupt my incredibly engaging times with Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Asterix and the like. But the realization that my parents were actually thinking of taking me to a shrink and that they were very worried for me, turned out to be a significant turning point in my life.
Overnight (literally overnight) I turned over to be this smart, well-mannered kid who could engage anyone in small talk for a minute. And to be fair to that “uncle”, the next time he was visiting us, I overheard him telling my parents that the change in me is amazing.
The mask comes on….
Looking back I realize why this was such a significant turning point — this is when I first learned the art of putting on a mask and behaving in a way the society expected of me. The first time I conformed to the norms.
And from there I have been on a roll. Every life decision was an exercise in conformity.
I am someone who thinks school uniforms are a great idea — especially in the formative years when young minds are not to be hurt by my- dress-is-better-than-yours problems.
But what about bigger decisions in life — like education.
I wanted to take English Literature after my 10th. But as all my friends were taking Science, I followed suit. After 12th, I got admission for BA in English Literature in one of the most prestigious colleges in Kerala. I ended up doing B.Tech in Electronics Engineering.
When I start on this route, one of my fellow co-founders tells me that I sound very ungrateful as only good things have happened to me thanks to my B.tech and PGDM.
He has a valid point. I am still very grateful for the moments of pride and joy I have given my parents as I managed to excel within the expected rules of the society. I am able to afford a very comfortable lifestyle thanks to these choices. I have made some amazing friends who will stand by through thick and thin.
But this is where I have a problem! Why do we place so much importance on conformity?
- The need to conform has become so deep-seated, we don’t even recognize it anymore. We keep quiet about so many injustices in our system because keeping our head down is also part of conformity. At work, when a superior says something that is rubbish or acts in error, we don’t call it out because we have been conditioned to play the obedient kid and defer unto authority. To conform.
- Weddings in India and the dowry system is one of the worst cases of conformity. Even when the groom’s family does not ask for dowry, the girl’s parents struggle and put themselves in debt which they never get out of because they need to conform to what the society does.
- A couple chooses not to have kids. But goes through torture because everyone expects them to conform to the norm and have a kid or two.
- As people who left their lucrative (read well-paying) jobs and jumped into this quagmire called entrepreneurship, me and my fellow co-founders still get accusatory glances for not conforming and leaving our jobs.
- A survey by guardian showed that 46% of transgender people under the age of 26 has attempted suicide. Why? Because of the pressures to conform
So, What do we do about this?
Slowly, but surely, there are parts of our society waking up and raising their voices and creating awareness on the pressures of non-conformity
- In March 2017, Mr Shashi Tharoor met with the chief minister of Kerala and urged him to decriminalize homosexuality in Kerala
- There is a book called “My Princess Boy” which tells the story of a boy who expresses his true self by dressing up and enjoying traditional girl things. A school in Minnesota has made this book mandatory reading to support one of their students who is gender non-conforming.
- Through movies such as “3 Idiots”, our own Bollywood sets examples of students who become extra-ordinary by not conforming
But is this enough? Frankly, I don’t know. As I mentioned at the beginning, this is a post where I am looking for solutions rather than giving suggestions.
[ Parting notes:- In the interest of coming clean, let me make a confession where I perpetrate this crime of forcing to “conform”. I married the most unique individual I have come across in life. Being well aware of his “unique” traits. And after that, I still make his life a nightmare by asking him to behave ‘correctly’. For e.g: “ Chandu, stop playing with your phone when you are with people” “ Chandu you cannot wear that old jeans for the party” OR “Chandu, please don’t sleep at the wedding”. There…I too am guilty.]
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Friends, this is the Day 7 of my odyssey to write one blog EVERY DAY for the month of May 2017. “One Day, One Blog”
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