Running businesses that supply therapy in Aberdeen and counselling in Dundee when I’ve spent the last 12 years of my life in London and the previous 10 overseas in Jakarta, Hong Kong and Australia, there’s not much about my life so far where it could be said that ‘she’s a conformist’. It wasn’t always that way though.
Brought up in Africa, as a child my first 6 years were mainly spent in the company of my brothers and sister. We had similar values and there were few unknowns. I felt safe. We spent 2 hours every morning being home schooled by my strict mother. And almost every afternoon riding bikes, hunting lizards and swimming in pools and rivers.
When my parents returned to the UK to allow us to be schooled formally everything changed. I’d never seen so many children, all dressed in uniform, in one room together doing the same activity. As a shy girl with a stutter, I stressed about how I would ever learn ‘the code’ to fit in. I could already read, write, do numbers, reason, run, swim, catch a ball – it wasn’t the lessons that threw me. It was the playground. How did groups form? Who decided what games to play and who could join in? Who was kind and protective who was to be avoided (I shed some tears learning that one).
Fitting in meant learning who followed what rules. Who was clever, sporty, popular and who were the rule-breakers the influencers or the coasters. And it was important to conform in those days because people who were too different were teased, bullied and ostracised.
I’m glad to say that now as a parent and having had the experience of 5 different UK schools I can confidently say they are farer, more diverse and more accepting places for our children to become a bigger reflection of who they were born to be. That’s a good thing. Our world is bursting at the seams with 7.3 billion people, none identical. They are held together by differences, similarities, choices, travel, change and progress.
It’s a proper stretch for our present leaders of countries, schools, businesses, faith groups and families to let the next generation express themselves in the diverse ways they do. It must be tempting to encourage (or bribe or force) our young (and old) men and women to conform – how much easier to manage, to create policies around, to know outcomes. Too much conformity though and we’ll lose the ability to find the creative solutions required for our human race to thrive.
At the core of both conformity and transformation are the traits of gentleness, tolerance and love. Applying these regardless of gender, faith, ethnicity, riches, poverty, education, self expression, family make up and physical or mental ability is where the breakthroughs lie.
It’s uncomfortable to live in this era of unknown quantities. Trust me that you’re not the only one struggling with the little questions (will I have a job next year; will my family stay together; why are my adult children back in my house) or the bigger ones (will there be a burnt up planet for my children’s children; when do I tolerate and when do I speak out; are free will, free speech and free expression always a good idea?).
It’s important to find a Healthy Chat, a therapist & a philosophy to up-skill yourself in these fast-changing times. It’s the boldness to ask questions that builds a confidence to both conform and transform; to be anchored as you ascend.