The Art of Escaping the Stale Norm

Once, after a family visit, my father and I left the rest of the family at home and went for a drive to find parking. After driving around for too long trying to find one, we ended up getting caught up in a heavy spell of rain. So, stepping out of the car, I stood for a moment in the rain, lowered my head to the window and called out to my dad, “Just our luck to find a parking spot so far away in this weather, isn’t it?”
“Don’t worry, if memory serves me, I’ve got an umbrella somewhere in here,” my dad replied, with the world’s most relaxed look on his face. And with those words, he steps out of the car, heads calmly to the boot of the car, opens it up… and brings out a forgotten, colorful beach umbrella.

“You’re kidding me, right? We’ll become a laughing stock if we walk around with this thing. People will think we are crazy!” I said shocked, and, grabbing it out of his hands, I threw it right back in the car.

Then, my dad, with a wide grin on his face, replies back in style, “And what do you care what everyone else thinks?”

At that moment, and for a long time after that, caring about other people’s opinions was something I couldn’t change inside of me. It was simply an intangible, controlling force that constricted me in the confines of an uncomfortable mould. My personality, without any particular resistance, adjusted from day to day to the status quo, while I tried pointlessly to walk my own path. It took a long time, difficult experiences and endless conversations for me to find the courage to challenge other people’s judging looks.

Not long after I’d taken up Mountain Bike racing and, at the same time, cycling as my main method of commuting around the city, I began to wonder why, in a town with such terrible traffic, only a scarce few people choose to cycle. Even less than that will use it to go shopping at the local supermarket and, perhaps, only a brave few souls will carry large, heavy objects or even their husband/wife with it. Rarely do you see anymore “hacked” bicycles or DIY contraptions. It’s as if the world is too afraid to try something that doesn’t agree with the norm of the area. Too afraid to sweat, to mess up his/her hair with a helmet, too afraid that he/she will come across as poor or pathetic for carrying something bulky on a bicycle. Generally, we’re simply too afraid of other people’s prying eyes. So, why don’t we try to do whatever we want in this world (especially if we know it’ll be beneficial for us) without being afraid that people will think we’re something we’re not, or something we wouldn’t want to be? If we examine this independently, we’ll see that there’s no real logic to it, it’s just that, as part of a whole, we accept the norm as something established – along the thousands of other habits that we’ve been forced to adopt.

One of the figures that’s inspired me in regards to this has been the Roman Stoic, Cato. Even though Cato was not particularly popular with his peers, through his way of life he gave us a stout example of a well-carved out personality. For example, he would walk around the marketplace with no shoes on, dressed in fanciful bright clothing, aiming to intentionally invite ridicule and mockery. It was one of his drastic methods to put his fortitude to the test and force himself to “weather the storm”, while he, in time, made himself tougher. He wanted to shape, in his own right and merit, the self that he always envisioned. He learned to ignore people’s critical eyes which couldn’t wait to scorn him and lay him bare, he learned to pay no mind to the Procrustean bed that wanted him to be different, and learned to question the commands of the mainstream trend.

People like Cato should still inspire us today more than ever. And not because, as the mentally weakened species that we’ve become today, we’re so desperately looking for a Messiah who’ll show us, confidently, the right way, but because our cruel, modern social system needs it. It needs a personality that withstood the pressure, and came in all honesty to appease us. To save us from the boot of the over-connectedness of the (social) network that only promotes what is filtrated and appeals to the masses, and take us beyond that, into the light that shows what is organic, special, and true.

Written by me, translated to english by C. Polydorou

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