As children, we're often handed down a bucket of unwritten societal rules. From "children should be seen and not heard" to "don't air your dirty laundry in public", the essence remains consistent: keep the peace and don't rock the boat. As we grow, these seemingly harmless lessons become the underpinnings of a pervasive culture of people-pleasing, one which often silences critical voices in the face of oppression. But it's high time we consider: at what cost?
The Deceptive Charm of Conformity
Humans, by nature, are tribal creatures. We seek belonging, connection, and above all, acceptance from our social circles. Conformity, then, becomes the easy route. It's the well-trodden path, free from confrontation and awkward silences. Yet, it's also the very route that muffles the voices which challenge harmful narratives surrounding racism, homophobia, and other forms of prejudice.
The Not-so-Subtle Art of 'Keeping the Peace'
It's been inculcated in many of us that peace is paramount, even if it's superficial. But this brand of peace often comes at the expense of folk who are marginalised. By choosing not to speak up against a racist “joke” at the pub or a homophobic remark at a family gathering, we unknowingly perpetuate a cycle. The cycle where marginalised people often feel unseen and unheard, while oppressors feel validated in their prejudiced beliefs, because look at all the laughing people. Or at least the silent people. Well no one said anything at the time. Times were different then… you can see how people use the silence they are met with as validation.
Manners Over Morality: A Twisted Equation
There's this skewed equation in play: where being polite is often rated higher than standing up for what's morally right. It's as if the discomfort of challenging a prejudiced view is more terrifying than the pain and harm that prejudice causes. This misplaced sense of propriety does more than just stifle personal growth; it serves as the bedrock upon which oppressive power structures thrive.
The Power Play: Upholding the Status Quo
When we opt for silent conformity, we inadvertently bolster existing power dynamics. Oppressive systems rely on the majority's silence. It's not just about the vocal bigot; it's about the silent bystanders who, through their inaction, give consent to the oppression, keeping power firmly where it has always been.
Choosing to Steer the Ship
But here's the thing: we're not bound by conformity or politeness, or silence or even the social code we were taught. Every moment presents a choice. A choice to challenge, to question, to steer the ship rather than go with the flow. It might not be the easiest route, with its fair share of turbulent waters, but it's the route towards genuine societal change.
And this is why it is so important for each of us to challenge the idea that people-pleasing is the nice option, the kind option, the giving option. People pleasing is just as much about avoiding personal discomfort as it is about deciding what other people need; it's a cog in the machinery of oppression that we all play a part of.
Recognising this is the first step. The next is action. Because a society where 'manners' trump morality isn't just flawed; it's broken. And it's up to us to fix it, by using our voices, by challenging ourselves to step out of our comfort zones, and to decide one moment at a time, ahead of time. Here's to making waves, no matter how much the boat may rock.
Over at SelfCareSchool there is a course on People Pleasers which you get at part of the membership or as a self study course here: