Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Conformity vs. Individuality

A favorite bit of wisdom that I have on occasion doled out to those around me, goes something like this:

"You wouldn't worry nearly so much what people thought about you, if you realized how infrequently they did".

And yet.....
There is so much pressure out there to wear the "right" clothes. The "right" hat. The "acceptable" color(s) {or lack thereof}.
There is pressure to go into the "appropriate" professions.
There is little wiggle room left for personal expression and individuality.
But are those things inherently contrary to halacha?
Is color by definition untzniusdik?
Is being an individual and having free expression NECESSARILY a dangerous or bad thing?

There is definitely something to being part of a group and trying not to stand out too much. I understand that. But to what degree?

I'm throwing it out to you all.
Go 'have at it' in the comments section.


Mystery Woman said...

My daughter used to have gorgeous curls. But curly hair wasn't the "right" kind of hair. There was nothing untzniusdik about it, but where we live, curly hair is a certain "type", and not a type she wanted to be considered. So...it's straight now. But now she looks just like everyone else. She killed her individuality along with her curls. It's a shame...

ProfK said...

The way I see it, this push for conformity to the extent we see it today is a bad thing, not a good one, because conformity as it is pushed now is about mediocrity. We're not pushing people to conform to the highest ideals, to push themselves to be the best they can. The highest achieving people in all fields are the ones who dared to go further, who dared to push themselves higher, who dared to think out of the box. When we push the type of strangulating conformity we do now the end result is a stifling of ambition and get up and go, and a terrible loss for klal.

And Mystery Woman's comment is truly a sad commentary. Somewhere way up the line the Riboneh Shel Olam is responsible for that curly hair, and when we shame our girls into hiding that hair, changing it to conform, we are being insulting to He who is the Ultimate Creator.

Yehudah said...

My father had a drash on the passuk from Hallel, "Lo hameisim yehalelu y-ah, v'lo kol yordei dumah."

He said read "dumah" as "domeh" (sameness, similarity) and then you get the following idea: It's not going down the road of conformity and being like everyone else that brings praise to G-d. On the contrary. It's individuality that does. It's developing and using our own unique talents, rather than trying to be like everyone else, that G-d wants.

Litvak said...

Yasher koach Yehuda, good one there.

Re the posting, doesn't the author appreciate all the great advances that have been made in robotics in recent years, and with drones and cloning too?

There are human robots, drones, and clones, frum and non frum, and there are non human robots, drones, and clones.

What a wonderful world we live in! ;-)

BLD said...

Hidur Mitzvah is a good place to start with individuality.

Anonymous said...

MW, the fact that a girl can't even keep her own HAIR is so pathetic. I could go further. Unlike clothing, hair type isn't a choice. And I dare not ask what curly hair implies!

G6 said...

I'm not sure what you mean.
Please explain.

YDL said...

zeh keli v'anveihu - hiddur mitzvah -is one place that one should express their own individuality without compromising on their Minhagim. Examples can be almost endless. Take the G6 Shabbos/Yom Tov table. The table is set to reflect the Yom Tov, or special time of year. This is hiddur Mitzvah and individuality. Other examples: the design of the Wimple, how one lights shabbos candles, what kind of menorah one uses, etc. Actually, Yekkes seem to excel at this...we all keep practically the same Minhagim, but with varying individual twists to them. (Hope this makes some sense).

cuzzin buzzin said...

you want to be different? your house may get torched. look at what's happening in New Square...

NGM said...

And when we go to university to study something other than speech, physical or occupational therapy we are told that our strong liberal arts education is a relatively useless waste of time... People don't take the time to ask me why I chose to study what I did, how it might apply when I'm searching for jobs, or whether or not I would make the same choice now.

The answer is, I would. And I would make the same choice to go to a university (away from a major Jewish community) where I was challenged to and praised for independent and innovative thinking. And if I would still make those choices (despite having had to take out loans) and my parents who helped me pay for that education would still be supportive of my choice, who is anyone else to decide that it was a useless waste of time and money.

If we are judged for the texture of our hair (I still wear mine curly most of the time!), the color of our clothing (LOVE color!), what we studied, and every other choice that we are entitled to make, the push toward conformity makes me think that we are not so different from lemmings. They too can follow blindly, even to the point of walking off the edge of a cliff.

And it's interesting to note that many of the wives of prominent rebbeim wear colors that aren't black. And for a very long time "Rabbi Dr" (in Germany at least) was the most respected combinations of titles and the "Dr." didn't refer to a degree in speech therapy (not to knock speech therapy, just giving an example).

So, vive la différence!

Anonymous said...

Why don't you keep your obvious antipathy for the therapies to yourself. Raise yourself up without bashing others and your arguments will actually be taken seriously. The therapies are tremendous for many Torah reasons - even if not all people merit to understand them.

BLD said...

BLD approves of YLD's piece on Hiddur Mitzvoh. There is a financial angle too. Yes, the amount of money spent on a lulav expresses hidur mitzvah and your individuality. The same with price spent on other mitzvos incl: matzos, tefillin, talis etc.

Yehudah said...

I sometimes wonder if BLD is serious or is rather intentionally trying to parody what passes for intelligent yeshivish thinking.

NGM said...

Rather examples of some of the subjects of study that more directly lead to a career and that appear to be more standard amongst women in the frum community. I absolutely respect the fields and the people in those roles who make such a huge difference for individuals and the community!
I'm sorry if I was not clear enough and that you read my comment as criticism!

Y W said...

Does anyone out there know the guidelines for wearing a straw hat, is the Shabbos of memorial weekend or the Shabbos after memorial day?

Random German Words said...

On the other hand, the need to NOT conform (which certainly exists in the frum world) sometimes simply constitutes an excuse for people to do things worse than colored clothing or curly hair.
Is it possible that conforming is a better alternative, because it while it suppresses some (but not all) individuality, it can provide a strong deterrent to potentially harmful ways of "expressing" one's self?

itsagift said...

It's important to be an individual as long as one is living within the confines of halacha.

It can also be a confidence issue - if someone doesn't feel good enough about themselves, they'll be afraid to stand out (in a way that is ok halachically).

I'm all for wearing colors (my wardrobe doesn't have much black in it) and love the summer when I can find clothing with refreshing colors!
It can be quite depressing these days when you look around and see everyone in BLACK. Where's the happy colors?

When it comes to jobs, a person should prioritize and think what's important to them. Is it just the title? Is it because everyone is doing it? It pays nicely? What about the rest? You must feel satisfied and accomplished and at the end of the day, you must answer to yourself.

And MW-yes, that's a real shame. I love curls, they're so bouncy, so happy, so individualistic, so different. Maybe when her hair grows in again she'll think twice...or by that time it'll be covered so she'll be able to keep her curls without thinking about what anybody else has to say!

L! said...

As a teen I made some effort to conform because I was trying hard to do what was "right" and "right" was what the teachers were telling or showing us.

One thing they seemed to believe is that if you're part of a community and feel comfortable with yourself, you have no trouble blending in. It's only if you feel a need to rebel or prove yourself that you feel compelled to stand out.

Thus, for example, someone with a nose stud was "sad" because she needed to do that.

I ironed my hair a lot back then.

When I got older I realized that my teachers were less brilliant than they (and I) thought, and that they often misconstrued independence of thought, openness of thought, and a freeness to experiment with a need for attention.
Some people know that they look pretty in a nose stud (it was acceptable jewelry for many centuries) and don't see any good reason not to adorn themselves with one.

I don't have a stud or a second piercing or blue hair, but I do have curly hair now. And I don't let other people's narrow-mindedness get in the way. I feel comfortable enough in myself to experiment or risk standing out without feeling like there must be something wrong with me.

I have friends who had similar stories. I think trying to conform is normal in teens and in young adults who conform from sheer inertia. Once you exit that horrible stage of life and get a breath to look around and figure out how much is you and how much is your high school's construct, you loosen up a bit.

So if you have a teenager who is conforming too much, just let her know that you support her individuality and her conformity if that's her individual choice, step back, and hope for the best.

harry-er than them all said...

Yet you daven at a shul which won't give an aliya to a non-hat wearing person, nor allow Kohanim to duchan with non-black socks...Just saying

harry-er than them all said...

To play devil's advocate a bit, there is a difference between non-conformity for its own sake (as in not to fit in) as opposed to showing individuality.

What i've notices though is that more serious organizations and businesses have unspoken norms and cultures, such as to wear business attire the whole day and if you don't it is deemed inappropriate. I have had many comments to me in graduate school how I appear more serious and they feel I represent Judaism precisely because i come put together every day (almost always dress shirts).

When we make attributions about other people (as in judging them), in an unstructured environment it is possible to make more accurate assessments about them because its unstructured. In a structured environment, one which has its inherent expectations, conforming is not judged, non-conforming is. Our communities have become a highly structured and therefore WHEN someone does not conform there will be judgments (and then people will actually think about you...)

Anonymous said...

MW, I was in jr. high in the late 60s when long,straight,center-parted hair was in and curls were out-out-out. Not just in frum circles but everywhere. If you weren't sleeping with your hair wrapped around rollers the size of coke cans, you were risking a sojourn in the burn unit by using chemical straighteners or ironing your hair with your mother's Sunbeam. nobody seemed to think anything of it. Everyone looked just like everyone else.

The only "meileh" this had over the situation your dd finds herself in is that no one was alleging that curly hair had any connection to our character or frumkeit. But the social pressure to go straight was as powerful then as it is now.

Cheer up. It's not as if your dd got herself a tattoo or had her nose "fixed". Nothing she's done is irreversible.