The teenage boys moved forward along the High Street navigating the street furniture and other people without losing their group formation. Their hair styles all looked the same, their clothes looked the same, they sounded the same.
The scene reminded me of an observation by Carl Jung:
“Grazing heads nodded, the herds moved forward like slow rivers. There was scarcely any sound save the melancholy cry of a bird of prey. This was the stillness of the eternal beginning, the world as it had always been, in a spate of non-being for until then no one had been present to know that it was this world.
"I felt then as if I was the first man, the first creature to know that all of this is. The world around me was still in its primeval state and it did not know that it was. And in that moment which I came to know the world, the world sprang into being. Without that moment it never would have been. All nature seeks this goal and finds its fulfilment in man but only the most highly developed and fully conscious man. Every advance, even the smallest, along its path of conscious realisation, adds that much to the world.”
Our fear of standing out and feeling different is sometimes so great that we fear it more than death. It’s a feeling I understand well myself having suffered for many years from a chronic lack of confidence. On the other hand, it seems odd that we’re so afraid. What exactly are we afraid of? What do we think will happen to us? We’re unlikely to suffer any real or lasting harm - or are we? The answer seems to lie in our remote past, in our evolution as social animals.
Most people don’t want to be seen as ‘different’. Not fitting in is associated with being an outcast, an ‘undesirable’. Humans evolved over the last few million years in a world filled with risks like large predators and starvation. Early humans were probably commonly hunted by many of the large predators common at that time.
One defence commonly used by mammals to protect themselves from predation is to live in groups. In a group, members can alert each other to predators and help to fight them off. The advantages of living in a group probably are the reason why early humans and other large primates evolved to be social, and why we are still social today.
Early humans learned to survive by using their wits and collaborating with each other. Those that worked well with the others, helped others and fitted in with well with the group were more likely to survive and pass on their traits to their descendants. Failure to fit in with the social group and getting kicked out probably spelled doom for early humans. It follows that anything that threatens our status in our social group, like the threat of ostracism, feels like a very great risk to us.
In the animal kingdom, ostracism is not only a form of social death, it also results in death. The animal is unable to protect itself against predators, cannot garner enough food, etc., and usually dies within a short period of time. Imagine the herd that Jung talked about. If one of the herd was injured or became separated from the group they would be targeted by the predators. Modern day humans who dare to be different and stand out from the ground risk becoming a target of trolls or of being ridiculed by their peers.
The fear is shared by many people who are faced with getting in front of a crowd and performing such as speakers, artists, athletes, actors, and musicians. They fear being negatively evaluated in anything they do; fear being rejected; fear being abandoned.
We are all afraid of rejection. At a primal level, the fear is so great because we are not merely afraid of being embarrassed, or judged. We are also afraid of being rejected from our social group, ostracized and left to defend for ourselves on our own. Sometimes, it seems that we fear ostracism even more than death, because not so long ago getting kicked out of the group probably really was a death sentence.