“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche
All through life we are taught that survival is based on the ability to adapt to our surroundings. That generations of species have survived a world which has evolved and changed so significantly because of the way they have adapted.
And naturally, our inclination is to also adapt to the surroundings we find ourselves in. Not just physically – emotionally too. Because inherently we know that to satisfy our desire to be accepted, we must adapt to our culture, our society, our world which tries to shape us into who we should be. Adapt to survive. Fit in. Blend in. Don’t be seen.
I once believed this to be true. That if I could only adapt to my surroundings then I could survive the hardships I faced. If I were to lay low, and not make noise, then I would avoid any kind of difficult situation. I would avoid making someone angry, I would avoid rejection, I would avoid getting hurt. This is the survival technique of my childhood that followed me into adulthood.
But after many years of this, I’ve realised that if we adapt to our surroundings in order to survive, then we are, in fact, not surviving at all. Instead we are journeying into a slow death of apathy, passiveness, indifference, complacency. We become comfortable with no longer being challenged, with no longer fighting against injustice, with no longer questioning. With looking at the world through eyes which once cared, but no longer do.
I don’t know the word for the opposite of adapting. I don’t think there is one. The closest I can come to is non-conformity. It makes me think of the verse in the bible that says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” ~ Romans 12:2. Personally, I like the way it is quoted in The Message – “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking”
The way churches have applied this verse has contributed to the tightly boxed and widely destructive “church versus world, christian versus secular, us versus them” thinking that has run wrought for centuries. Where good church going people throw out all of their favourite books and CD’s and movies and vow to only ever read the bible, listen to worship CD’s and watch movies produced by Kirk Cameron from here on lest they accidentally conform to the world and lose their place in heaven.
But what if there is more to this verse than we first thought? What if it isn’t so much about being made to fear the world outside of the church walls, but about not becoming so well-adjusted to our culture that we become complacent to what is around us and no longer bother to challenge, question, fight for truth, fight for justice. Maybe when we conform to anything and make that our permanent truth, it places us in a prison of our own making and we fail to see beyond the walls that we have become so comfortable to hide behind. Maybe renewing our mind isn’t detoxifying those so-called worldly views that have corrupted our thinking, but being willing to continually challenge what we have been taught instead of just blindly following and seek the truth of God, not of man. Maybe it’s no longer allowing ourselves to be treated a certain way simply because we have come to accept that as our normal version of events.
Animals adapt because they fear death. Humans adapt because we too fear. We fear rejection, we fear criticism, we fear ridicule for being who we are and we fear being crucified for what we believe. When my husband once asked someone why they could not accept me as part of their life, they replied, “Because she isn’t like us” It has taken me years to realise what a blessing this rejection actually was. As Mary Oliver wrote, “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift”
Yes, I once believed that in order to survive I must adapt. But I now know the cost. It cost me my heart, my courage, my voice, my truth. It did not protect me, but only imprisoned me further into the belief that to survive, my true heart must not be seen and my voice must not be heard.
Life out there is a jungle and we all endeavour to survive the best we can. But I know now that surviving is not living. And it’s time to stop being afraid.