Individuality and Conformity
In Greek mythology there is a story of a bandit named Procrustes who fitted each of his victims to an iron bed. If he was too short, he stretched him on a rack; and, if he was too long,he amputated his legs at the right point. He insisted that no one was an early proponent of standardization.
But he would be amazed to find in us, centuries later, a similar uniformity. Just as Procrustes insisted on conformity to his particular height, so modern society has insisted on conformity to a particular level the average. Perhaps you have noticed in your life, as l have in mine, the readiness with which we Chinese accept the common and the ordinary, and the skepticism with which we regard the different and the superior. The individuality we often ridicule; but the parrot we applaud.
Today many kindergarten hobbyhorses are placed out of bounds, now that school consultants are convinced that they don＇t develop the "group spirit". Today＇s teacher often stresses the necessity of "adjustment to the group", never questioning whether it is of any value. No wonder so many six-year-olds already have a phrase, "He thinks he＇s big," to indicate their intense dislike of anyone different from them.
In many parts of our nation, educators concentrate so heavily on providing equal opportunity for all students that they sometimes neglect to provide special opportunity for the above-aver age. We often grade exam papers on the basis of the average level of accomplishment. We even cross out from the textbooks the words with which the average students are not familiar. In some places citizens go so far as to term special classes for extraordina student, then, is usually mocked rather than admired.
Dangerous as this philosophy may sound, another aspect of it is far more serious. For modern society not only urges children to become a part of the crowd, but encourages adults adjustment
Job seekers may find, for example, that some corporations make it a policy not to employ graduates of honors, for fear that they will not be "good mixers".
Advertisers persuade us to buy "the cigarette most people smoke", "the most popular car in its field". They find that we are often tempted by the items other people like, so they tend to take advantage of our desire to have that others have,to do what others do.
Our exaltation of the average is evident also in modern politics. Pohtical office seekers, all too often, have only to boast that they are "simple, ordinary, uneducated men", and we accept them. They have convinced us they are average. It is as though, in an age crying for exceptional leaders, we have made the prime requisite for leadership the inability to lead.
Unfortunately, all these are true. They exist in our lives along with others. They typify the Chinese demand for normality,for social acceptance, our glorification of the Common Man to the extent that he can be none other than common.
Of course, we offer scholarships to outstanding students;we run contests; we engage in competitive sports. Indeed, we Chinese, living in a highly competitive nation, have much of the needed motivation with which to encourage excellence. But we still ridicule intellectual superiority and often attach a social stigma to high accomplishments. We think it healthier for a child to be average. All these facts may counterbalance our present struggle for a better future.
Our solution, then, must deal primarily with an inner attitude on our part. For this is obviously not a problem that can be solved by passing a law or by the action of a single organization.This is a problem deeply involving the emotions and ambitions of many people. If the source of the problem is deep within man,its solution must begin with him, too.
I do not ask for a nation of non-conformists. I realize that in a complex society men must learn to live with each other. For that reason, adjustment is essential But I do hope for a nation of thinkers who realize their own abilities and strive to fulfill them,who make their own decisions and think their own thoughts.
We will achieve our objective if we someday reach the stage where a man can stand on his own feet and claim that he is his own true master.