In life, we establish our bearings by making comparisons between what we know about ourselves and what we observe in others. We constantly self-define. We seek out ideas and characteristics that embody who we’d like to be and add them to support our self-definition.
Much of our prioritization comes from a basic need for approval. We want to emulate those we admire and we want them to admire us in return. Earliest, this would be our parents. Later, we turn to our peers, moving away from the influences in our home and traveling in the outside world. Suddenly, too, we proclaim that “we’re different.” But we take care not to be too different. While we might not want to conform, there generally is a sameness to our non-conformity!
As we grow into adulthood, our peer group expands and contracts. We fear that we’ll allow ourselves to be swallowed competely by the identifiers we seek. We yearn to be part of, but we guard the individual we perceive ourselves to be. We may re-embrace that which we have forsaken. We return to safe harbor.
We’ll change a minor thing or two to put our personal stamp on expectations to maintain the identity we’ve cultivated. There is a marvelous scene in The Bird Cage where Nathan Lane – dressed as a proper heterosexual – emerges in an impeccably-tailored, somber suit, only to reveal shocking pink socks when he crosses a leg. “It needed a little color,” he says wanly, knowing all the while he’s doomed. He cannot be what he needs to be in that moment, beause he will forsake himself. His compass is intact.
Recently, I joined an online discussion that sparked from the suggestion that we attempt to sail the sea of human interaction without our compass. The question was: what if we were free from the habit of needing to assign qualifiers – precision points – to those we encounter. Is it possible to view another as a blank slate, unexplored, without preconception?
What would we discover if we were free from pre-judgment? What part does judgment play in evaluation? Is it naive or foolhardy to suspend or disregard our compass points? What is the difference between fear and skepticism in interaction?
The magnetic pole was discovered to be well south of the north pole by Norse travelers. The explorers needed to adjust their compass to account for the difference. When adjustments need to be made, or even when we agree to sail without a compass entirely, what experience can we rely upon to make decisions? Will we find ourselves on unfamiliar shore? What are the stakes for willingly blind explorers? Will we risk? Would we place our trust in a captain who doesn’t use our compass, or one at all? What is our true north?