I’ve been thinking about this for a while, especially when contemplating where to move outside of New York and observing the different subcultures I’ve come across in my travels. While growing up on Long Island, my introverted nature turned me into something of a recluse, too proud of my individualism to run with the herd and participate in the myriad of strange cliques that surrounded me. I was always the fish who swam the other way.
It made me wonder though: was I really such an anomaly, or were there others like me who only behaved the way they did, not because they were being true to themselves, but so they could fit in and not risk being alone?
When I traveled, in all the places I visited it seemed like everyone was like everyone else. In places like Seattle, everyone was a hippie and a liberal. In the Bible Belt, everyone was a conservative, church going Christian. So if I wanted to be with people that were like me, it would just be a matter of going where they were, and I’d be happy right?
But I started getting uncomfortable with the thought that people only evolved to become who they were not out of individual choice, but because that was the culture they grew up in. If you were born and raised in Utah, you likely became Mormon. If you were born and raised in California, you likely became a surfer dude. If you were born and raised in Wyoming, you became a cowboy (or at the very least, not a city slicker.)
So that’s it? We’re nothing more than the environment we wind up living in? What if my parents had been Muslims instead of Christians, would I have grown up to be a Muslim too? Are the convictions I hold in life really based on the choices I make, or did I simply inherit them?
That’s when I started to realize what was bothering me about some of the places I’ve visited, particularly the south. Despite people who had the same political leanings and Christian beliefs I did, something was off. And it occurred to me that despite the appearances of camaraderie, I still had nothing in common with them, because their livelihoods and Christianity were not borne out of conviction, but out of social expediency. Their culture was steeped in conservative, Baptist tradition, and yet the Bible Belt culture did very little to change the true nature of man. That’s why there was the paradox of encountering people who quote Bible verses while, for example, cooking meth. It was part of the culture they grew up in, but it didn’t change who they were. They were just schools of fish, swimming the same way. The monolithic culture was a facade.
That’s why I tend to regard people who “profess” the name of Christ with a heavy degree of suspicion. Do they really believe that, or was that simply how they were brought up? It’s easier to believe one is a Christian living in an Islamic country than if they were living in Alabama, because despite the enormous collective pressure to be Muslim, they rebuffed it, often at the risk of their very lives. They didn’t go along to get along, they specifically chose a different path. Those are the kind of people I think I have the most in common with, the ones who are true to themselves.
Being a true individual I think carries with it the burden of being a stranger in a strange land, and if my goal was to move only to find people who were like-minded as me, I would never be happy. Instead, I find contentment in accepting who I am, and that I will always be the square peg who can never fit in with the circle of the world. Once I learned to accept that, I realized my happiness doesn’t have to rely on being surrounded by people who shared the same convictions and beliefs I did.