We have heard the famous quote that man is a social animal. Accordingly, man has always tried to fit in and be included in his social circle. This very phenomenon is used as a pressure against man too. For example, in many cultures, when someone does something that is not considered the norm of that culture, that person is shunned away by people in his community. A few movements and groups also instill the fear that if you leave the said group or movement, no one will befriend and support you. This fear can be so immense and intense that many people choose to live their lives being prisoners of this thinking and consequently do not achieve anything.
Interestingly we are encouraged to think out of the box to come up with innovative and different ideas. But why is that when someone actually thinks out of the box, people start labeling them odd man out. This person is treated as if s/he is being given punishment, either through bullying or by limiting interaction and socialization with the person who dares to think differently.
Some of the examples of famous scientists who were opposed and punished by their societies because they dared to think differently. For instance, Galileo was punished for his work supporting that the earth revolves around the sun. Likewise, Ignaz Semmelweis who advocated the idea of washing hands to control infection was rejected by the society and considered him to be an embarrassment. It is said that because of the reaction by the society, he started heavy drinking and became extremely depressed.
These consequences have very huge implications, both for the person and the society too. People not only start to view thinking out of the box as a forbidden or looked down act. They also learn to suppress their opinion and as a result may fall to high levels of people pleasing habits because they do not want to be excluded and isolated by the society. They may resort to telling lies and living a life by pretending to match the imaginary criteria that gets people accepted by the society. A lot of energy is then wasted to maintain that acting, in wearing a mask pretending to be someone else.
At the society level, it becomes impossible to challenge and question rituals, concepts and traditions. The free speech no longer remains free which means that people are forced to give up honesty. It becomes extremely difficult, if not impossible to give birth to new ideas, new concepts and philosophies. The society instead of going and growing forward takes a reverse gear and starts to become patriarchal. The actual issues cannot be addressed and resolved and we unconsciously allow the bad practices to continue. We also start to believe in stereotypes because the alternative images and concepts are often non-existent. This in turn promotes a rigid and fixated thinking.
What can we do instead?
We need to minimize our judgmental and bullying attitude. Learn to accept that societies that progress do so because they allow inclusiveness, liberty of ideas and freedom of speech. Ideas must keep flowing and evolving. We must start to worry if people stop thinking out of box as this means that they have stopped questioning, observing and analyzing things around themselves.
As a person we need not to derive our self-esteem by people’s opinions about ourselves. If the scientists we mentioned above did that, we may have been living in ages of darkness. Learn to believe in what you think right and not follow the crowd. There have been so many concepts that have turned out to be wrong, so if we keep following the crowd, we may be in constant mode of making U-turns and starting our journey over and over again.
Written by Muhammad Wasif Haq (2018)
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