Saturday, January 2, 2010

A Sour Face

A man must consider what a blind man’s-bluff is this game of conformity. If I know your sect, I anticipate your argument. I hear a preacher announce for his text and topic the expediency of the institutions of his church. Do I not know beforehand that not possibly can he say a new and spontaneous word? Do I not know that, with all this ostentation of examining the grounds of the institution, he will do no such thing? Do I not know that he is pledged to himself not to look but at one side, ─ the permitted side, not as a man, but as a parish minister? He is a retained attorney, and these airs of the bench are the emptiest affectation.

Well most men have bound their eyes with one or another handkerchief, and attached themselves to some one of these communities of opinion. This conformity makes them not false in a few particulars, authors of a few lies, but false in all particulars. Their every truth is not quite true. Their two is not the real two, their four not the real four; so that every word they say chagrins us, and we know not where to begin to set them right. Meantime nature is not slow to equip us in the prison-uniform of the party to which we adhere. We come to wear one cut of face and figure, and acquire by degrees the gentlest asinine expression.

There is a mortifying experience in particular, which does not fail to wreak itself also in the general history; I mean “the foolish face of praise,” the forced smile which we put on in company where we do not feel at ease in answer to conversation which does not interest us. The muscles, not spontaneously moved, but moved by a low usurping willfulness, grow tight about the outline of the face with the most disagreeable sensation. For nonconformity the world whips you with its displeasure. And therefore a man must know how to estimate a sour face.

William James, in his 1906 essay Self-Reliance explains conformity in words we can all understand. We put the self in a cell of conformity, and constantly push the bars of sanity in order to test our energy. We live in a distorted world of separation where projections of consciousness vacillate in a cycle. Our cells of conformity have limits, and those limits help create our reality.

We wander from corner to corner of this reality looking for a seam of understanding or a window of discovery. We focus on a rock that moves in a seasonal rhythm. We beat the drums of complacency and get stuck on the muddy floor of ego debris. We create saviors in the murky water of time, and worship them as gods.

Non-conformity is a fearful thought for those who live to control the thoughts of others. Self-sufficient lifestyles are considered anomalies that create holes in systematic thinking. Subjective thinking is trapped in the trenches of non-existence until we change our sour face to the face of the inner self.

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