From The Nature of Conformity
A gray fedora will free us from the dreariness of conformity and send it packing on a breeze.
A friend once remarked how "easily identifiable" he'd be in a sea of black hats.
"Oh, and how might that be?" He looked at me disappointedly that I seemed not to know the answer he was expecting.
"I'd be the guy wearing gray."
You’re thinking: 'Ugh, another non-conformist, always want to be in the spotlight. That's what they really want, that everybody's attention be focused on them." And about many so-called "non-conformists" you're right, but in this case not because in his own, at times, annoying way, he sticks to what he believes no matter whose feathers he may ruffle. Most remarkable of all, I've never seen him without a smile.
In a world which rewards conformity, there remains a big problem for folks like my friend, but as crazy as it may sound, we do not grow enough of these "gray hatters". Not too surprising, I suppose, when you realize how much backbone it requires. He mostly ends up hurting himself though; it would, after all, be so much easier for him to just throw in the towel, to surrender to the overwhelming numbers of "blackhatters"-yet there he remains, one gray dot, sappy, annoying, stubborn (and these are among his good qualities) someone from whom many could profitably take a lesson.
However, if you insist upon wearing a black hat in a sea of black, fine. No problem. As a wizened haberdasher once told me: "If the hat fits, wear it." Yes, I know that sounds familiar, but you're thinking of his brother, the shoemaker, who said: "If the shoe fi ... "-well, you know.
Word Association: Respond spontaneously. No thinking, rather apropos for a discussion about "conformity", don't you think? Uh, uh, no thinking, remember? Almost "gotya" there, didn't I?
Procedure: I say "conformity" five times; the "R" following 1-5 are "your" responses. I'll comment briefly after each.
1R. safe ... Most folks feel safe and protected by the multitudes of those with whom they agree although there would be instances when I would question the honesty of their agreement.
2R. uniform ... Sure it means "identical", as if "cut from a cookie cutter" but instead of the adjective, I prefer to focus on the noun "uniform"-that is on the clothing "uniformites" wear. Looks good with a black hat though.
3R. enforcement ... When uniformity is required, there arises a need for extra-legal (read: vigilantes and informants) enforcement-the purpose of which is to demonstrate complete control over what used to be called fundamental liberties. Enforcement of such invasive rules will lead to a diminution of liberty and a pervasive fear will silence most.
4R. boredom... Life is by its very nature interesting, varied and diverse. Human beings naturally resist conformity, especially when the minutiae of every day are no longer governed within the province of the individual. Under such circumstances, the only conformity you'll see is that enforced by special police auxiliaries and informants.
5R. Surrender … of self to the larger “good” which it probably is not. When the “self” becomes “selves” what remains of “community” is but a sham. There will be those intrepid souls who’ll seek and find a way out. If only there were more of them ...
Author's note: My meanderings, which are often on the lighter side, do lead without too much distraction, to a fairly clear point: this being, I hope, no exception. Nevertheless, I thank readers for their patience.
A Profile in Courage
It's an old story which in one guise or another you have heard before. Relevance? Overflowing with it. Especially in these times when so many folks are dumbfounded and sickened by the unfathomable degree to which their fellow homo sapiens are capable of conjuring up stupidity, cruelty and blatant dishonesty. And just as you’re about to “throw up” your hands and/or the contents of your stomach in hopeless resignation, a new story steps forward.
Entitled One Hasidic Housewife's Inspiring — and Unusual — Journey to College and Beyond From Satmar to Sarah Lawrence and published in the current January 2014 edition of The Jewish Daily Forward, newly-emergent writer Frimet Goldberg speaks of the joylessness of life for women of Satmar’s second American generation unlike, Goldberg points out, her mother's generation that enjoyed better educational and work-related opportunities without the burdensome restrictions her daughter's generation would face.
After the community found “its footing” with the end of the Second World War, "the Hasidic community shifted rapidly toward extremism" and with it went the chance to live as her mother had.
Of the many gifts each of us receives long before our mothers push us out into the world, our capacity for learning and independent thought (though varying in extent and depth between individuals) will have an active impact upon the world only when we, as individuals, exercise the pinnacle of all our godly endowments, free will.
Yes, once again, it comes down to the choices each of us makes. Many do turn out badly, but if we can truthfully say: “Okay, I know where I went wrong and will avoid that mistake when I try again” we will already have come a long distance, an achievement attributable to the good choices we made along the way.
With this sort of success under our belts, as it were, we'll remain alert for the next opportunity which is right around the corner.
Writer Frimet Goldberg’s journey from Satmar to Sarah Lawrence and beyond is far from over. May she continue to make good choices with and for her family.
I look forward to learning more about Frimet's story as it opens a window to what seems to be a deeply troubled Satmar community.