What will the neighbors think?

Monday, June 9, 2003
Mike Hendricks

Last week, in my Odds and Ends column, I mentioned that friends of mine had attended the B.B. King concert in Lincoln and had reported how excellent it was. When they first told me about it, I told them I would mention it in my column and asked if it was OK if I quoted them. They said yes. The next day I received an e-mail from them, saying they had changed their minds because they feared criticism from people who think that certain kinds of concerts are "immoral," for lack of a better word. I told them I would honor their wishes and keep them anonymous but I thought it was a bad thing that we allow others to so control our lives.

Now, I'm not saying that all of us should do anything we choose to do without any concern or fear of social pressure. Obviously, one of the reasons why most of the people abide by most of the rules most of the time is because of this pressure. We want people to see us in a positive light, we want to be liked, we want our behaviors to be approved of and, consequently, we live our lives towards that end. The question, however, each of us must ask ourselves is where do we draw that line? At what point have we abandoned the "self" for the sake of society? At what point does our need to "fit in" and be "accepted" by the right people impede and, perhaps, destroy our individuality and uniqueness? That's the troubling issue and we all deal with it in different ways.

Obviously, if we are contemplating violating certain laws, we must be aware of the social disapproval that will accompany those actions if they are discovered by others. I say "certain" laws because not all laws are perceived in the same way. It's against the law, for example, to exceed the speed limit but I suggest the next time you take a trip to Lincoln on I-80 you put your cruise control right on 75 mph and see how many people you pass as opposed to the number who pass you. Most of us tend not to look at "reasonable" speeding as something that impinges on one's character.

On the other hand, women who seek abortions and doctors and other medical personnel who perform them or assist in performing them are scorned by a certain segment of the population, even though abortions are completely legal. So, as it is with everything else in life, there aren't even any absolutes when it comes to the law. Some law violations are tolerated by society, other behaviors that aren't illegal are not.

In the end, it comes down to what we decide to do with our lives and who we decide is in charge of our lives. Some people are so other-directed that they literally have no lives of their own. They are so concerned about what others are going to say or think that they live the entire course of their lives trying to please others, trying to be accepted, trying to be liked and loved. Sometimes they succeed but often they don't. Others couldn't care less about what people think of them; they're going to do their own thing and if others don't like it, that's too bad.

I would hope that the answer for most people lies somewhere in the middle. Because we live in a society of people, we do have certain obligations and responsibilities to the group. If we live in a residential neighborhood that prides itself on the physical appearance of the houses and lawns in the area, we have a responsibility to take pride in our house and lawn as well. To not do that reflects negatively on the entire neighborhood, not just on your little plot of land. So even though you may not like to mow or trim, you need to do it or hire someone to do it or risk being castigated and criticized by your neighbors. Your other option is to move to another neighborhood where there isn't an emphasis on the physical beauty of the neighborhood. So, there's give and take in social life, just as there is in all areas of our lives.

On the other hand, if you don't practice what you preach, you become a hypocrite. No one cares much for those people who point the finger at others for perceived misbehavior while they're misbehaving as well. Many people fall into this category. They spend an inordinate of time in other people's lives when their own lives, attitudes, and behaviors could use some serious work.

I try to live and let live. I don't hide my behaviors nor my attitudes. In fact, both are here in this column every single Saturday for people to read, criticize or applaud. And believe me, people do. I don't hide what I think, what I do, or who I love. I learned a long time ago that when we attempt to please everyone, it's very much like the dog chasing his tail. Regardless of how hard we try, the feat can never be accomplished. And for humans, the sobering fact is that many live their entire lives trying to gain the approval of others and, in the process, give up themselves.

The uniqueness that develops in every human being during the incredibly brief period of time we live on this planet is a terrible thing to waste.

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