Have you ever felt as though you need to fit in, but you want to express your individuality at the same time? We are one among many, and we compare ourselves to others all the time. We’re also evaluated, classified, and counted more than we want to be.

But aren’t we unique and different?

We are, but we won’t always be true to that difference, until we are more sure of ourselves. Taking a closer look, here is a poem I wrote that speaks to the depth of my problem.

Like Everyone Else

Fear dances in your head,
the traditional lays it’s frightening images before you.
Pay homage to the wisdom,
as your father, grandfather, great grandfather,
and generations before you did.
Your new idea hangs lamely in the air,
will they scoff and laugh.
Preposterous, impossible, yet it isn’t new.
It is as ancient as you.
© 2016 Joan Margau

Fitting In

This is a full time job if you are going to fit in, you have to have the “right profile.” You’ll have to be “cool,” follow the right people, and put perfect pictures of your life online. Your “persona” will be someone you think you’re supposed to be. A new trend sets the pace. An “influencer” tells you the best way to do something. All you have to do is just follow their “blueprint,” and you don’t have to think for yourself. It’s all done for you, just follow the secret method.

The problem is everyone has a secret method. If you compare the methods, it’s two different ways of doing something. Each method is unique to the person who promotes their particular method. This is not to say you cannot learn from someone else’s experience. But if you adapt what you are doing to be like everyone else because they are successful, you’re knocking yourself out to be like them.

How do you get from being like someone else to being true to yourself?

It’s an obvious answer only when you stop and think about it. You have to develop your own style and know yourself. The way to do this is to improve your mind, and be aware of yourself.

The process of thinking is actually an automatic activity, through responses to the five (and sometimes) six senses. Our interaction leads to the thought process of the mind and of course our feelings. When we want to be like everyone else, we give up on ourselves.

Our individuality is shaped by our worldview through what we experience. For instance, there are many subjects that shape our view; art, literature, religion, politics, self-awareness, family, observation, reading, instruction by learning, conversation, and mediation, but not necessarily in that order. We are shaping our individuality when we improve the mind. We start to think for ourselves, and not let someone else think for us.

Improving the mind isn’t something newly discovered. One of the minds that steered me in the direction of accepting the fact I was knocking myself out to be like everyone else was Isaac Watts. His writing was in a different time, but the truth of what he wrote is timeless.

The improvement of the mind

The action and process of improvement of the mind was a preoccupation of Isaac Watts, the well known English minister, theologian, and logician. His book, The Improvement of the Mind (1741) was widely read, and still is today. Watts wrote poetry, prose, and hymns. He spoke Greek, French, and Hebrew, and was known as a Dissenter. Not a good idea in those days, depending on the ruling monarch of the time.

He wrote the Art of Reading (1721), A Guide Called Logic: or the Right Use of Reason (1724), and The Improvement of the Mind (1741). These works became textbooks and educational theory for more than a century. A digital copy of the Improvement of the mind is available in the Google Play store.

“There are five eminent means or methods whereby the mind is improved, in the knowledge of things, and these are observation, reading, instruction by lectures, conversation and meditation…” (The Improvement of the Mind, 1741, Isaac Watts: 22).

Observation

Observation shapes our ideas and experiences resulting in opinions. It lays the foundation of knowledge. We obtain a variety of ideas from an outward perception. Differences of opinions are normal, otherwise we have to think the same way, under someone’s idea umbrella.

We see and know things as they are and how they appear to us. We can be influenced by our observation of others, especially if they improve our mind and contribute to our existing knowledge. Influence through observation can be inspirational. But we should not be so influenced we let go of who we are, in favor of wanting to be like someone else because they are successful.

Reading

Reading transfers knowledge to us. We review the text, observe, and interpret the meaning in context with our observation. Our online experience has put us into spending a good deal of time reading. Just what are we reading?

It depends on whose work you read. The purpose of the interaction when reading is a comparison rather than an outright adoption. What if you were doing what you wanted to do from the start, and it was the one thing you needed to do, but abandoned what you were doing, because you thought you weren’t doing it “right.”

There are too many how-to-do it faster, better, and quicker. Don’t waste time, all you need is five minutes to change your life, in three easy steps. This kind of reading can cause you to abandon what you are doing, and knock yourself out to be like everyone else, thinking this is what you should be doing.

Was I that gullible? Yes, most definitely, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this post.

Instruction by lectures

If we think about the journey of instruction, we could start with the oral instruction. The tradition of passing on the stories of nations to future generations. The open debates on the senate floor in ancient Rome. The schools of instruction in philosophy and theology. The universities, education institutions and higher education. Every century has instituted a form of instruction by lectures.

If Isaac Watts was our instructor he would expect the result of all instruction to improve the mind, not persuade. If we want to learn we will be enthusiastic in our approach. Instruction by lectures will be exhilarating, and we will always be learning. This is an ideal situation, and this is our experience today. Our life is rich with learning, and there’s no shortage of instruction by lectures.

Conversation

“Conversation is another method of improving our minds, wherein by mutual discourse and inquiry, we learn the sentiments of others, as well as communicate our sentiments to them, in the same manner.” (Watts, 22.)

The principles of conversation were posted on the wall in my English classroom in junior school. Each day a different student had their turn to read the principles to the class. Even if you missed a day of school, you still took your turn to read the principles aloud. This way no one could say they weren’t aware of the principles.

  • Speak only when you’re spoken to
  • Don’t interrupt the person when they are talking
  • Listen politely first and then respond
  • Speak clearly and pronounce your words
  • Don’t shout
  • Don’t use swear words

You were only able to have a conversation if you followed these principles. We had the strict supervision of our teachers. You had to follow the principles or there was no conversation. This resulted in meaningful conversing with your peers and teachers. We respond to everything the way we first learn something.

Today our conversation is significantly enlarged. In addition to in-person conversations, we are having a digital conversation in real time with a person behind their keyboard.  The principles of conversation, learned in junior school still apply. Conversing through computers is a paradox, and a delight. Online conversations are borderless and rich with diversity, and are the perfect opportunity to express your opinion.  Although the rules I learned weren’t for online conversation, they still apply.

Online conversations are very different. They happen in the privacy of your mind. Your written response is more of a meditation and thought contemplation. We’re thinking about how we speak, in writing.

Meditation

“It is by meditation, that we fix in our memory, whatsoever we learn, and form our own judgement of the truth or falsehood, the strength or weakness, or what others speak or write.” (Watts 22).

Meditation is the practice of contemplation and reflection. This is how we come to know ourselves. It is the process of being still in the silence, to know yourself. But not as you would be defined by someone else’s opinion of you. You would be defined by your own reasoning and ability to determine the true from the false, the good from the bad, and the right from wrong.

What we speak and write online is as a meditation.

The writer is often in mediation as they write. The words reflect the streams of thought, through the keyboard, and onto the computer screen. The writer contemplates and writes from the depth of their being. It is a world of silence and unspoken words, the movement of the mind through ideas and expression.

Meditation is not only in the form of writing, it is in the form of contemplation and is a very ancient practice. The art has been practiced by the wise sages and doesn’t know a specific time period. The subject of meditation is finally being revived in our modern lifestyle. It is the single most beneficial action anyone can do for themselves. Spend fifteen minutes a day in silence. It doesn’t have any secrets, there is no cost and there are enormous health benefits.

There is continuous learning and improvement of the mind, but it will be as an individual enriched by learning.

The day will come when you have observed, read, learned by lecture, conversed and meditated. You will know who you are, and waste no more time knocking yourself out to be like everyone else.

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