Fit In or Do the Right Thing?

There is an unwritten rule, one that I am only now beginning to understand.  We are not expected to live by our convictions, only to believe in them Society allows, even expects, a certain degree of hypocrisy.   As long as you believe in diversity, you can surround yourself with neighbors who look exactly like you.  As long as you believe that Jesus ate at the same table as prostitutes and outcasts, you don’t need to actually bring any into your respectable, middle-class church.

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I’m sure these ladies would be totally cool with you bringing your new street-worker friend to church

People tell us that we need to follow this rule, that part of fitting into society means having the flexibility to believe the right things without actually doing the right thing.  And here is where I am conflicted.

On the one hand, I don’t like this kind of hypocrisy, and I never will.  We need people who are willing to risk everything to shake up a status quo that so often desperately needs to be shaken.  We need them to fight the injustice and cruelty that becomes so entrenched that we don’t even think about it.  We are told to avoid black and white thinking, but sometimes, things really are black and white.

On the other hand, I realize that if you are an outcast, it is unlikely that anyone will listen to you.  And worse still, you may lose friends and make things more difficult for your spouse and children.

I struggle with this in my own life.  We live in a boom town.  Not only did the recession never touch us, people here are flush with cash (well, rising house values anyway) and spend it like they’ve won the lottery.  New cars, new clothes, new everything.  Young couples flip old houses while families with young children live in brand spanking new ones with magazine spread interiors.  As the standard of living rises, so do the expectations.  If your stuff isn’t as new and shiny as everyone else’s is, it’s going to stand out.  Your rented house filled with 20-year-old furniture will cost you status points and even friends.

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It’s not that I’m against nice things; beauty is as important as utility.  But both my faith and my own personal convictions make me deeply opposed to materialism and conspicuous consumption.  The question, then, how much respectability am I willing to lose to by sticking to my convictions?  Do I buy new or used?  Do I forgo buying at all and give the money to charity?  On the one hand, I want my children to fit in and have nice things; I want friends.  On the other hand, it is deeply important to me to minimize waste and serve those in need, and I have a hard time not doing what is right.  How much should I try to fit in, and how firmly should I stick to my convictions?  Can I do both without sacrificing too much of either?  These are difficult questions that I don’t have easy answers for.

creative commons photo courtesy of epiclectic on flickr

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9 Responses to Fit In or Do the Right Thing?

  1. bjforshaw says:

    I think you raise important issues here about the materialistic nature of society. For a lot of people fitting in is paramount: they measure their worth by how large their circle of friends is and how popular they are — do they frequently get invited for coffee and so on. I see this as shallow myself: I think somebody’s value derives from how they raise their kids, how they treat others.

    Balancing your convictions against the other people’s expectations is a difficult path to tread though, as you obviously are finding. You want the best for your children which means avoiding stuff that their peers could hold against them: if your home doesn’t match up to their parents’, if they don’t have any of the new “in” clothes, toys or games. I could wish that people weren’t like that, that they were more like you, but wishing won’t change society. It’s never satisfactory having to choose when your priorities are conflicting. Compromise never feels great.

    • Aspermama says:

      It really is tough. It’s a fine line to walk. I definitely lean more towards not being materialistic, so I just hope I can find enough people who feel the same way that it doesn’t affect my kids.

  2. autisticook says:

    I know exactly what you mean. For myself, I’ve decided to go the “maladjusted” route. Basically, if I had friends who would end the friendship for reasons such as having a shabby house, then what on earth would I talk to these people about? I don’t want to pretend that people like that are my friends. But I understand the pressure of fitting in, and how LONELY it gets when you don’t have anyone to talk to.

    With regards to children, though: how many children do you know who would rather play in a perfectly maintained house than in a slightly run down one where it’s not that big a deal if you accidentally spill a pot of paint all over the couch? I had a friend in primary school whose parents were building their own house, brick by brick. I think it took them about 7 or 8 years. So sometimes we played in the garden. Or we helped with mixing cement. Or we could play with the weaving loom in the bedroom because that was the only space that had heating. Her parents were really weird. AND IT WAS AWESOME.

    Some kids were forbidden by their parents to go play there, because those parents thought status and money were the most important thing in their lives, and different was dangerous. When we talked about learning how to weave a carpet or make our own cheese (YES THAT HAPPENED), those kids were jealous because their parents wouldn’t let them do stuff like that.

    Only in secondary school, it really became an issue because teenagers start to adopt their parents’ attitudes. And that’s when I came to the conclusion that I didn’t really want to be friends with kids who thought that way, because I didn’t have anything to talk about with them. I’d rather have friends who thought making your own cheese is really really cool. 🙂

    • autisticook says:

      (My attitude did and still does mean that I have fewer friends than most people. But I don’t really mind that, because the friends that I do have are anything but shallow, and they always have interesting stories, and they let me be myself).

    • Aspermama says:

      Weaving carpet and making cheese? That is seriously awesome! It’s definitely better to be part of a laid-back family that isn’t afraid to be a little quirky and all hung up on stuff than to live in a spotless McMansion where you aren’t allowed to touch anything and don’t really see your parents because everyone’s busy all the time. The vast majority of kids would rather be a Weasley than a Dursley. I just wish their parents felt the same way.

      • autisticook says:

        “Rather be a Weasley than a Dursley.” YES! That is a brilliant illustration.

      • Petra says:

        ” The vast majority of kids would rather be a Weasley than a Dursley.”
        🙂
        And I think the parents forget that they too felt that way. They never wanted to become Dursleys. Unfortunately, it’s easier to become a Dursley, than it is to remain a Weasley. That’s a great analogy.

  3. Petra says:

    I totally understand, and most of my life has been sacrificing what I believe in, in order to fit in. My parents did nothing but wonder ‘what will the neighbours think?’ And avoid doing anything weird or different.
    The big problem is that as long as everyone does this, everyone keeps doing this. Add the ‘picture perfect’ media to this, and it creates a sort of momentum, a spiral. The more people are alike, the quicker something is a deviation. Expectations rise, as you say. People’s tolerance levels go down. It becomes more and more difficult to be even a little different. And everybody feels the pressure.
    Everybody does feel this pressure you feel.
    I don’t think you or your children are best served by learning to give in and try to fit in. As I said, I have learned to fit in. So all I have been doing was try to fit in. I never learned to stand for what I believe in. This does not create self-confidence. It only creates a constant looking over your shoulder, because no-one will ever be perfect, or feel perfect.
    I have actually learned that often other people respect you for being you and doing what you believe in, even if some other people will not like you for it. But, as autisticook says, maybe those are not people you want to be with anyway.
    The more I do things my way, the more I learn to do things my way. I started with small things. And tried to really make clear to myself the reasons why. When people wonder about it, I explain. Sometimes they think it’s ridiculous, and sometimes I manage to point out how it’s not. Slowly I can present myself with an air of “well of course I do things this way”.
    It’s working. Slowly. And it’s a struggle. But it’s breaking the spiral. And if I achieve nothing else, at least I worked hard to do things my way, not work hard to do things other people’s way.

    You don’t need to shake up the entire status quo. But you can do things your way, and not support the status quo constantly. That way, you give yourself, and the people around you the opportunity to be true.

    Sorry for the length of this comment. You touched a nerve, I suppose 😉

    • Aspermama says:

      No need to apologize at all, thanks for commenting. I really like the idea of starting with the small things. I think over time that can build the confidence needed to stick to your convictions on the really major things. And as you said, it gives other people confidence too, and that’s how entire movements can form.

      I totally understand, and most of my life has been sacrificing what I believe in, in order to fit in. My parents did nothing but wonder ‘what will the neighbours think?’ And avoid doing anything weird or different.

      I don’t want my kids to be excluded, but I definitely don’t want to be that way. If my kids are always sacrificing what they believe in because they’re worried about what others think, I will feel that I have failed them as a parent.

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