Conformity

A young man I know is working less than full time to raise his young child, and he is taking criticism from his extended family for doing it. They say things behind his back like; he does not pull his weight; he is not fair to his wife; he is a slacker who lacks ambition.  The sexism runs deep. If a woman does the same thing she is often praised.  Apparently it is OK or expected for a woman to be devoted to her child and give up her career, but if a man does it he is seen as being less of a person. I don’t know who is more devalued from these assertions: men, women, or children. Having done a similar thing myself and observed the utter silence that masked contempt about my choice from many people, I cannot stand to listen to it.  Now that I am finishing the job of parenting I started 25 years ago, I can safely assert that I don’t have any regrets about raising a family while working part-time. I am glad I had the fortitude to follow my own path. I accepted the sacrifices, and ignored the ridicule.

One of my favorite philosophers, Ralph Waldo Emerson, said in his famous essay on Self-Reliance that, “A Man cannot be a Man unless he be a Non-Conformist.” I believe that means that each person must find his own path, his own truths, his own talents, his own gifts, and not copy what others do or what the society or media tells him to do.  This is what it means to be fully human. Emerson, as was the way in his time, uses the term man, but the truth expressed is what feminism is built on: you have a right to follow the path you are inwardly guided, whether it suits the stereotype of your gender or not.  To pursue your inner nature without regards to the consequences is how I would define courage.  Human liberation cannot proceed without it.

The worst lie you can tell is to yourself. The hardest thing to do is to face the truth of your life: not to escape, not to deny, not to make excuses. It seems likely, at least from my personal experience, if you do this, it will not always look pretty or smell good. The insight may make you temporarily depressed, but only from that place can you make necessary changes, and that is a high calling.

There is only so much time that we have before opportunities slip away. I have heard it said that we are never too old to become the person we always wanted to be. That may be true up to a point, but deathbed conversions do not make for a life well spent. I don’t want to feel regret for the way I’ve lived, nor cringe when I reflect on how some things went down. Regardless, whatever mistakes I make come from inside me.  I have not followed someone else’s idea of what I should be.   I may not own much, but all the lessons are mine.  Now, if I were only a quick study.

Leave a Reply