The herd will not have it. The herd hates outliers. It’s nothing personal; it’s just for protection. If you stray from the herd, you get eaten. It’s as simple as that. It’s natural selection. So stick together.The way I feel right now, this resonates. Andrew Ordover goes on to look at the specific example that spurred him to write, that of his son. Which also resonates. We've all either been there or seen that done.
But nobody’s trying to eat us, so why can’t we get over our herd mentality? Why can’t we relax and let people be? Why do we even care?
You would think there would be strength—and comfort—in numbers. You would think that if 95% of the women you know are wearing Fashion X this year, they wouldn’t need to tease or sneer at the 5% who wear something different. You would think that if 95% of the men you know prefer drinking beer and watching football to drinking wine and watching opera, they wouldn’t feel the need to call the 5% fags. Who cares what the other 5% do, or like, or wear, or think?
But we do care. We’re a herd. And we care a lot. We can’t be “us” unless we’re all us. One weirdo makes us question our us-ness, our whole group. And we don’t like that. So we’d better bring the outliers back into line. It doesn’t have to be through violence or coercion—it can just be gentle mockery. We’re teasing. Don’t take everything so seriously. Don’t take it all to heart. Just take it.
If you’re lucky, as an adult, you find a place or make a place where this kind of nonsense doesn’t occur, where people are genuinely tolerant of difference—or, better, indifferent about it. Indifferent about difference. I don’t want you to tolerate what I am; I want you to not give a shit, one way or the other. I want you to accept the fact that who I am is none of your goddamned business, and live accordingly.
Ah, how much of American political discourse would vanish overnight if we could just apply this one, simple rule: About that which is none of your business, shut up.
Of course, in far too many places, people think that everything is their business. In far too many places, the message is clear: it’s not that we want you to be exactly like us; we need you to be exactly like us. We can have no bell curve here; the outliers must be brought into the fold. We must be one flat line, stretching across the horizon forever. It is an absolutist, totalitarian impulse buried deep in our heart of darkness, and the insecurity and fear it reveals is troubling.
And surprising. I mean, who knew a head cheerleader’s sense of self could be so precarious?
I still remember the Japanese intern for our Catholic school's third grade class, Maya. She stayed with us for a year and it was a lot of fun. But one of the things that she thought was most wonderful about America was how we were free to be ourselves, to be different.
She told me, "We have a saying, 'The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.' To see how the children treat each other in school, how they pick on each other. It can be terrible. Here in America it is so much better."
Maybe it is wishful thinking to say that it used to be so much better. There has always been a "herd" to bully those who aren't just the same, especially among children. Adults aren't always better.
It is what makes it so important to stand up for the little guy when he's being hammered down. Kudos to Andrew Ordover for articulating it so well.