I learned about social norms when I was 15 years old in a sociology class in school. I remember the teacher telling us that we must follow the acceptable societal practices that are deemed “normal.” He then proceeded to teach us about bureaucracy and red tape when it comes to dealing with large institutions.
Reading the assigned articles made me scratch my head. The first question I asked myself is, why do most people want to follow? And the second question that popped into my mind was who is this body called society that determines what is normal?
You see, I have never fit in a day in my life. I have never wanted to play the game. But like much of people in society, I had to adorn masks and push back who I really was when no one was looking or judging.
“When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school It’s a wonder I can think at all.“ Simon and Garfunkel
The biggest life lessons I received in high school were not through formal classes. Like many before me, and behind me, I failed biology at 15 because I would not succumb to my teacher’s advances. My teacher was also the vice principal of my school and he was in the military and threatened to kill me if I whispered an ounce of what transpired. I could never tell anyone why I had such disdain for the sciences and what they represented to me, especially since I got into trouble for failing biology because I would not comply. There were no words at the time to explain what was going on and it was a young student versus an authority figure who fought in a war.
When it happened to me again when I was a graduate student, I spoke out. I had found the courage to take action, and then many others came out of hiding and he was fired from the university. It even hit the newspapers. At that point, I knew that if I did nothing, it will happen to others and I felt a responsibility to younger people. I had learned the burden of silence.
It took awhile for my voice to emerge and for me to understand that the big lessons came from the school of life. They were unstructured with no lesson plan and required you to forget all the crap that was put in your head since there were no classes being taught on reality.
When you start peeling back the veils of reality that you were taught, you can see with new eyes, you can start realizing how powerful you truly can be. And it is up to you to put down the manual of how life is supposed to be so you can discover all that has always been here, waiting for you to discover.
Last night my neighbor came over with a genuine act of kindness. He saw something that was needed to be done in the house the last time he was here and without being asked, he brought his tools and fixed it. In exchange, we sat and talked for a few hours. This never happened when I lived in the big city. No one simply dropped by, and never to simply help; everything was planned and calculated. And I rarely knew my neighbors when I lived in big cities, beyond pleasantries. The societal norms in the big city also came with big invisible walls that kept us separated. I really did not know the beauty of neigbors until I moved to a very small town.
My neighbor and I started talking about how situations and people come into our lives to teach us. And only when we are ready. Fear, stress and worry are on the menu every day, ready to be put into action by those who want to carry their burden with them. The hardest work one ever does throughout their life does not include a pay check or a formal change management plan. The hardest work is how you choose to respond to what is on the menu of life. What you give weight to.
And here is the biggest lesson I learned. We have learned to seek and crave answers before asking questions. I can sit here and type the 3–5 ways that can lead you to nirvana but 1) I don’t know you; 2) I don’t know what your perception of Nirvana is; and 3) I don’t want to waste your life.
You have always and still do hold the keys
We have become so addicted to prescriptions; whether they come from a bottle or a self-proclaimed guru or mystic who rarely practices what they tell others is the path or the rules of success. They may even write award winning books about it and fill your head on how they are the authority but the truth is real and it is that no one really knows. No one knows you and what makes you tick under all those masks.
These constructs and systems that we have today are mostly broken. We are in this mess in the world because we have been conditioned to lead with structure instead of remembering why we are here. And my take on it all is that we were not created to suffer throughout our life. It is optional when we have clarity of purpose.
As you become more conscious and start living in awareness, you start taking your power back; and only when you are ready. You no longer have a need to blame the system and go out and protest or be outraged. Sure, you may feel that is the only way out by doing something. And that is honorable. But start asking yourself some tough questions about the broken system. I did. I saw with new eyes that the social norms are to protest, blame the other and be outraged, which changes nothing in this century.
We need new thinking and ancient thinking and questions to go out and build constructs that work for the 21st century. As I wrote in my first book, Creating a healthy, humane world requires more than new models that shift the deck chairs on a sinking ship. It takes entirely rethinking the nature of business, work, and life.
What are your questions? What would you do and where would you be if no one was looking?
There is no else apart from each of us to put down the manual and learn what makes us tick. It’s personal.
All I do know is that our world needs healthy, conscious 21st leaders for our time. And we can control the volume and the channel when we wake up to reality.
By Ayelet Baron
Keywords: Diversity and Inclusion, Leadership