It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti
Short, simple, and potent. This is one of my favorite quotes.
Pretty much every culture in the world teaches, overtly or subtly, that fitting in is good. That becoming “well-adjusted” is desirable. This only makes sense. How else could a culture perpetuate itself, if it doesn’t try to convince people to fall in line?
Even counter-cultures want you to align yourself with the rebel cause. Hippies might recite this very quote, and in the next sentence start telling you how to live your life. Funny, right?
In a way, I do that all the time on this blog. I write about thoughts I have which are usually intended to offer some actionable perspective. In other words, I write about what I think are better ways to live and be.
What this quote has called me to question, though, is whether the ideals that we are adjusting to are healthy or sick.
Fitting in can be just fine. Aligning yourself with a positive community can offer you invaluable support.
I participated in Leo Babauta’s Sea Change program for building good habits, which offered access to a message board with other individuals working on changing the same habits as me. It felt great to become “adjusted” to this group of people. They helped hold me accountable to my goals, and gave me new perspectives and insights on the challenges and rewards of changing long-ingrained patterns.
Also, usually one person alone can’t accomplish great things. We remember people like Gandhi and Dr. King, but the truth is that their visions never would have become reality without the support and co-action of massive numbers of people. It’s not really the inspiring people of history who make movements; it’s the community that rallies around them.
But what if the community, what if the society, is sick?
Is it good to fit in at a party college? At a place where the amount of alcohol you can drink is praised more often than your dedication to your studies?
Is it healthy to be well-adjusted to a materialistic society? Where what you own and consume is the gauge for your status?
Is the culture of work-aholism in today’s medical and financial fields a positive thing? Is it good if your sense of personal happiness is secondary to, or even considered antithetical to, your ability to perform at a job? This isn’t even to mention the fact that this cultural trend means that your surgeon, or the medical resident supporting them, might be working with a total of 3 hours of sleep over the last 2 days. Should you trust your life with someone working in those conditions?
Just because a large group of humans have agreed on something doesn’t make their conclusion right. We are imperfect animals, just a handful of mutations away from monkeys. Our cultures and societies are far from working out their kinks.
When you find yourself trying to fit in with a group, either purposefully or unconsciously, make sure that you really question the group’s values. What actions do those values lead to, and what results do they produce? We can know the tree by its fruit. Would you be genuinely proud to be a part of this group? Is adjusting to their community going to make you healthy or sick?