Independence is Offensive

[T]his summer we’ve had a more relaxed dress code at Central to go along with our Summer of 66’ theme. I bought a pair of red TOMS shoes that I was excited to bring out a few times. I ended up wearing them once. Toms Red ShoesI was taken aback by the response I got from people on them. Sure, I realized that they weren’t your normal shoe, but I thought they were fun and they fit the series well. Needless to say, my self esteem couldn’t withstand the onslaught that I received and now they only get used on my days off. It amazed me that everyone had an opinion about them and everyone felt qualified to let me know what that was. I didn’t think much of this till I recently talked with my friend Matt about the responses that he’s received to growing out his beard. Here is how he described the experience.
I started growing out my facial hair 30 days ago & have had the following observations:
  • Initial comments were inquisitive, curious, rare
  • After a few weeks, comments from “1st timers” became challenging, perplexed, expected/frequent
  • 1 month in, comments from “1st timers” could be described as derisive, perturbed, aggressive
  • With repeat-commentators, successive remarks got more exaggerated & included more emphasis on personal affront/disgust, & often took the tone of “didn’t I tell you this was ugly?”
Probably the biggest surprise was that what was initially a self serving decision, was interpreted by almost everyone as a sort of anti establishment statement against the man. For some reason, a man growing a 30 day old beard has resulted in a lot of people breaking with normal social rules (however you define that) in what they do or don’t say, in an effort to “educate” me on what is or is not socially appropriate… Kind of ironic isn’t it? I’m not really sure what to make of it… The tone of the beard-comments have been less about how it looks or feels, and more about the unbelief that I would be so slow to respond to the increasing criticism. I think I need to wrestle with this a little more, but this definitely goes down under the axiom page: “independence is offensive.”
I completely agree with his conclusion that independence is offensive, I just don’t know why. Why are we so against someone who stands out? It isn’t like wearing red shoes are wrong anymore than having a beard is wrong. They are just different than the norm. Where is this desire for other people to fit into our standards coming from? What type of clothing and facial hair are we keeping people from because of fear of what we’d say? More importantly, what other things are people holding back on because of fear? My sense is that our critiques of others standing out must be a result of our own insecurities manifested in two ways:
  1. We are unsure about ourselves, so we take any opportunity to make others feel unsure about themselves
  2. We admire something about when people do this and are frustrated that we aren’t doing this ourselves, whatever that would look like for us.
We may like the thought of independence and independent people, but the reality is that it bothers us more than we probably realize.

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Jeremy Jernigan

Speaker | Author | Founder of Communion Wine Co.