Breaking barriers allows one to open new doors

There’s no such thing as a true nonconformist. Even if one did exist, he couldn’t last long. Every stoplight would be a disaster. Stopping at a red light would be conforming to the standards of conventional society, so the rule-breaker would be forced to ignore the light. Green lights would cause multi-car pile-ups as well, as the nonconformist would be obliged to stop traffic immediately. And that’s just one intersection.

No, a true nonconformist is doomed in today’s rule-filled, obligation-crazed society. Regardless, there’s something to be said for going against the norm every now and then. Although nonconformists may be incompatible with the world, nonconformity is something altogether different.

Take being a punk. It’s more than the mohawks and the piercings, the tattoos and the clothes. It’s more than the stereotypes, the assumptions, the labels.

Despite popular opinion, we don’t dress or act the way we do out of intimidation. We don’t listen to the music because we want to scare people. Because being a punk is about more than the clothes or the music. It’s about rebellion.

People are always so eager to accept without question. So eager to judge, to presume. And part of those assumptions and judgements always seems to involve the automatic swallowing of the superficial, as opposed to taking the time to look at people for who they are.

The vast majority of kids who would be willing to put themselves into the punk category aren’t trying to scare or intimidate. They merely want to make a statement, to garner a reaction. They want to force the understanding that people are more than what they look like, and that to be accepted, to live the norm, may be safe, but it’s not always best.

In some ways, it might almost be worth it. Fitting in means taking the easy way — there’s no ostracizing from peers or from adults. No staring, no snickering, no insults based on appearances alone. Such a response can come from almost any form of convention breaking: being too smart, too stupid, too fat, too short, too poor, and certainly, too punk. When going against the norm can result in almost instant discrimination, longing to conform seems understandable, even desirable.

Of course, there is a price to pay. Choosing to follow the beaten path means never knowing what might have been. It means choosing to ignore one’s own individual talents and abilities. It means denying the amazing gift of individuality.

Nonconformity means being comfortable with who you are. It isn’t self-esteem, and it isn’t egotism. It’s the ability to face a crowd of people and not back down. It takes strength and stubbornness; it takes individualism.

It takes courage not to need to fit in. It takes strength to stand up for what you believe in, to test the precedent. It’s hard to fight against a crowd that believes in the conventions of society. Yet somehow, the tighter the conventions, the more people feel the need to rebel.

The spirit of punk goes beyond whether someone is Straight Edge or Ska Oy, whether they like indie or emo. At the risk of suffering backlash from the punk community itself, I’d risk the following: It’s not easy being a punk. Maybe that’s why we come across as defensive and confrontational. Maybe that’s why we’re so eager to fit the constraints of being labeled as lost causes and outsiders.

Granted, there are those who wouldn’t recognize themselves as trying to make some grand, wide-sweeping statement. But if there’s one thing that all punks have in common, it’s the joy of being different. Nonconforming is difficult, but it can be a lot of fun.

The decision to conform can shape a life. It can quite definitely define someone’s personality and future.

The choice between being the same and being different goes beyond clothes, cars or cliques. It’s more than the superficial signs of what people wear or what kind of music they listen to or what they seem to be. It’s the conscious decision to take the time to look at people for who they are, not what they are. It’s never easy.

Breaking the standard rules of convention means going against the majority. But in the end, it’s the difference between being an individual and being just like everyone else. And being an individual — being a punk — is what nonconformity is all about.

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