One of my recent posts, ‘Who made the rules you follow?’, examined some of the unwritten social rules that we follow, both consciously and unconsciously.
These rules are agreements by which we live our lives. As we have seen throughout human history, breaking a social rule can lead to punishment ranging in seriousness from being ostracized or shunned, to excommunication, banishment, imprisonment, or even execution.
Despite the threats of punishment, there are many who broke the rules, and thereby transformed the old agreements. Those who stepped away from the petty bureaucracy of humanity to revolutionize something new, perhaps themselves, gave to all the rest of us when they broke a few of the rules they faced.
Here’s a short list of rule breakers:
Nelson Mandela, Karen Silkwood, Bob Dylan, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Billie Holiday, Susan B. Anthony, Amelia Bloomer, Duke Ellington, Gertrude Stein, Edward Snowden, Les Paul, Rachel Carson, Lucille Ball, Miles Davis, Elvis Presley, Angela Davis, Richard Miller, John Scopes, Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi, and Maya Angelou.
And Henry David Thoreau, Frank Lloyd Wright, Bessie Smith, Ron Kovic, Harvey Milk, Patti Smith, Frank Zappa, Virginia Woolf, Eva Mozes Kor, Julia Child, Madonna, Banksy, Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Malcolm X, Sonia Sotomayor, The Sex Pistols, The Beatles, Gloria Steinem, Barack Obama, Chelsea Manning, and maybe you too.
Other rule breakers include: anyone who ever questioned the prevailing authority and became her own, in order to bring something of value to the world. Those who fight against ignorance and invalidation in order to shine a light for others, have broken social rules over and over again. Anyone who can put aside fear, prejudice, and hate in order to see the beauty in their fellow humans is a true spiritual activist and world leader.
Anyone who believes in the human spirit’s ability to grow, heal, and create a new world, despite all the naysayers to the contrary. Those who began social movements that created great changes on this planet, even while flying in the face of popular opinion.
Those who know how to forgive, and do so, are often breaking social rules. People who know how to forgive start no wars, which is breaking a great big vengeance and punishment rule.
Those who speak the truth, and anyone who faces the wrath of others by going against popular opinion in order to bring forward a greater truth. Those who risk their careers, relationships, reputations, because they cannot remain silent in the face of abuse, even if it comes from the top down.
Whenever someone can face their own fear to do something that they know is right, that person is creating something new by breaking the rules.
Think about the movies in which you were cheering for the underdog hero, the one who has to go against the grain that he or she may not fit well into anyway, in order to bring a new kind of world into being. This person has to go against popular opinion because they know something, have a hunch, a feeling, and just have to follow it. Nobody will listen to them, and it’s painful to watch them being turned down, shunned.
It is very hard to go against the grain, go against the crowd, but it is far harder still to live in a lie. As we are seeing today, the lies will all come out eventually. It can get pretty messy when they do. What a healing!
Some cultures on this planet throughout history would kill you just for breaking the social rules. Others would punish by shunning you, turning you away on your own, knowing your chances of survival on your own were pretty slim. With this kind of history, it is no wonder that many people are frightened of going against the grain. Those who don’t fit into the domineering group often have a pretty rough time of it.
Many of my favorite people, including countless artists I know, simply did not fit in while growing up. If you experienced this, you know how uncomfortable this can be. It also helped you become who you are today. Maybe you always saw things a bit differently than others, always heard that different drummer.