One of the great American myths is that we are all a bunch of rugged individualists. We would like to think that, but it simply is not true. There are some exceptions, of course, but for the majority it is not that way at all.
Deep within, we imagine ourselves as a mixture of Patrick Henry, Davy Crockett, John Wayne, and the prophet Daniel! But the truth of the matter is that most of us would do anything to keep from being different. We’d much rather blend into the woodwork. One of our greatest fears is being ostracized, rejected by ‘the group.’ Ridicule is a pain too great for most to bear.
There are other fears—fear of being made to look foolish, fear of standing out in a crowd, fear of being talked about and misunderstood. Rather than rugged individualists, we are more like Gulliver of old, tied down and immobilized by tiny strands of fear, real or imagined. The result is both predictable and tragic: loss of courage.
Over 30 years ago I worked as a machinist in a shop where the vast majority were members of the local union. It didn’t take me long to realize that the maintenance of a mediocre standard was one of the unwritten laws of that shop. Pressure was applied to anyone who worked unusually hard or produced more than the lower-than-average quota. Why? It made all the others look bad, and there was no way they would tolerate such a thing! Mild suggestions, if unheeded, would be followed by gentle nudges. Then, if still unheeded, the nudges would be followed by direct confrontation. If that was ignored, there were stronger measures taken to maintain the level of mediocrity. They would have no part of excellence. Conform or else!
Such pressure is not uncommon in numerous slices of life. The hard-charging high achiever at school is usually viewed with suspicion, not respect. Instead of others in the class picking up the pace and trying their best to do better, they would rather put down the student out front and make him or her look foolish. People don’t want anyone to soar, especially if they prefer to slump!
Chances are good that you feel the same pressure I’m illustrating. If not, count yourself fortunate. Few are the places today where eagle types pursuing excellence are admired and encouraged to reach greater heights.
Excerpted from Dear Graduate: Letters of Wisdom from Charles R. Swindoll, Copyright 2007 by Charles R. Swindoll Inc. (Thomas Nelson Publishers). All rights reserved worldwide. Used by permission.