It’s hard to commit to and be the purest version of yourself. It’s hard because we live in a world that seeks out differences and makes judgments on them, after which, the outcome is rigidly dichotomous: applaud or correct. And each of these outcomes is wholly dependent on the happenstance cultural values and societal norms of the time.

Even in the school system, this is true. There are certain differences we applaud. Take, for instance, at least in my immediate cultural environment, differences in interest, activity preference, race, and religion, which are, for the most part, applauded. There are other differences, however, that we constantly try to correct and mainstream: behaviors as simple as handwriting style, sitting in your desk, and some more unsettling differences such as gender roles and sexual identity. What’s even more unsettling is that t
hese corrections need not always be made directly; rather, they can be made through our silence, as well. By praising the child with good handwriting, the other children strive to do the same, wishing for praise; likewise, by only exposing children to texts about heterosexual families with two parents, we make all children aspire to that ideal.

I work in a profession that is constantly trying to correct and conform students, but I know that, for a fact, I would not want to be corrected and conformed into the typical archetype of American teacher, but at the same time, there are certain mainstream ideals, consistent with the archetypical American teacher to which I believe all educators should aspire.

So where do we draw the line between streamlining ourselves and simply being different? When do we know whether to correct or to applaud? How does a behavior go from being corrected to being applauded?

Moreover, how do we decide when a correction will lead to progress or when a correction will lead to stifling individuality? To me, it seems unclear.

It would seem that any sort of progress–that is any sort of progress that detracts from stifling individuality and promotes appreciating difference–can only come from those who decide to be vulnerable despite the fact that a difference is unpopular, from those who are brave enough to push the limits and face the attempts of correction, even when it means we’re the only ones fighting in our corner.

I suppose, though, at the end of the day, even if we have a whole slew of people standing next to us, we still are the only ones in our corner. We’re still only as good as our own personal best defense. We’re still only as good as our self-efficacy and commitment to ourselves and our own beliefs. We’re only as good as what is within us, because that which lies within us defines us, governs our actions, and allows us to sleep with ourselves each night. It allows us to stand in our corner and be with ourselves, even when no one else is standing immediately next to us.

But most importantly, that which lies within us allows us to find happiness and contentment in a world that will never be 100% happy with us.

It will save us from anything that lies outside of us.

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