Freedom From Social Restrictions: A Must-Read!!!
Chapter 17: Freedom From Social Restrictions
by Harry Browne
from *How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World* (1973)
It's easy to feel that you have no chance to live your own life, that society imposes too many restrictions upon you. Employers, friends, lovers, family, and strangers seem to gang up on you to tell you how you must live.
Of course, "society" is a nonentity. It has no mind, no interests, no motivations. It is simply a collection of many *different* individuals who have different minds, interests, and motivations. So "society" can't restrain you.
The problems come from individuals -- people who want you to act in certain ways and cause problems for you if you don't.
I think the first step in freeing yourself from social restrictions is the realization that there is no such thing as a "safe" code of conduct -- one that would earn everyone's approval. Your actions can always be condemned by *someone* -- for being too bold or too apathetic, for being too conformist or too nonconformist, for being too liberal or too conservative.
So it's necessary to decide *whose* approval is important to you. If you just assume that must have the approval of those nearest to you, social restrictions will be a very real problem.
But there are millions of people within your reach -- people of all different types. Included in those millions are undoubtedly many people who wouldn't demand the artificial attitudes you may think you have to display. They would want you as you really are.
I've often heard someone say that if such people exist, he's never seen them. But the problem is usually that he hasn't looked in the right places, or that he's given those people no chance to see *him*.
If you want to find someone who is much like yourself in attitude, tastes, and interests, you have to look where such a person is likely to be found. And you can't expect him to recognize you if you hide your identity behind a mask in order to get along with the people you're with.
Obviously, if you like rock music, you aren't likely to meet a kindred soul at the opera house. In the same way, if you're looking for someone who's honestly selfish and individualistic, you're not likely to find him at meetings of the local Improvement League or the Young Democrats Club.
Whatever your personal standards, the best place to find like-minded people is in the same place where *you* would most like to be. If you crave companionship that's more intellectual, for example, you might try college or night-school courses in the subjects that have always interested you.
And since you could also run into potential friends almost anywhere, it's important to display your standards openly and honestly *wherever* you are. Only then can others recognize you as a kindred soul.
For if you wear a "socially-acceptable" mask, those whom you seek will walk right by you. And those whom you *do* attract with the mask will only add to the pressure that you be something other than yourself.
If you make your own actions consistent with the standards you really admire, you'll know which people are compatible -- just by their reactions to you. Those who disapprove will seek someone different to be with, and those who have standards similar to yours will react favorably toward you.
In effect, you let others tell you about themselves through their reactions to what you are.
So it's important to reveal yourself as you really are. If you're ambitious and show it, people who appreciate ambition are more likely to notice you. Or if you're careful to respect the property of others and clearly want the same treatment for your own property, you're less likely to wind up with thieving or freeloading friends.
When you act as *you* want to act, you stand a far greater chance of meeting the people who could be valuable to you. But when you let others determine your conduct, you acquire nothing but restrictions.
At this point, standing up for yourself might seem like a gamble with long odds against you, but I've never known anyone who's used this principle without achieving spectacular results. And this way offers hope and opportunity; hiding your identity offers nothing but more restrictions.
I think that many people hide their identity, tolerate restrictions, and remain in bad relationships because they're afraid of being lonely. But I wonder what they mean by "lonely." Aren't they *very* lonely when they deal with people who don't understand and appreciate them? I know *I'd* be lonely in such a situation.
I've also been lonely sometimes while looking for compatible people. But that loneliness was usually short-lived and more than rewarded by the discovery of people who wanted me for what I am. Around them, I *am* understood and appreciated in a way I never could have been among people with different standards.
There are many, many people in the world. You don't have to please any one person. There are other employers, other business prospects, other potential friends, lovers, and spouses.
And when you find them, you'll have relationships that impose no restrictions upon you. You'll be among people who will *want* you to be as you are.
As you look for compatible people, it might be important to remind yourself that you have more value to offer than those around you may have led you to believe. They might have rejected much that is a part of your nature (or would have rejected it if you'd allowed it to be seen).
That can lead you to believe that you're out of touch with the world. And your lonely feelings can be worsened as you look at the popular trends, fashions, and interests -- if those things aren't what you want.
You can believe that if you don't dance the new dances, no one will think you're much fun. Or if you don't join in the cries for "ecology," no one will think you're very knowledgeable. Or if you haven't been to an orgy, no one could think you're sexy.
But the popular trends are only a part of the General Market. In fact, they're usually not even representative of the majority of people; they are simply given a lot of publicity.
There are plenty of people who dance in the old way -- or who don't dance at all. There are undoubtedly millions of Americans who don't join social causes and couldn't care less about your involvement in them. And I suspect that plenty of people still participate in sex on the old one-to-one basis.
I once met a young woman who had very long, lovely, wavy hair. I complimented her, but she replied that she was trying to straighten it. When I asked why, she said, "Wavy hair isn't fashionable these days; everyone likes straight hair."
Well, *I* much preferred her wavy hair, but then maybe I wasn't enough of a market to please her. So I pointed out that in the city of Vancouver (where we both live), there are perhaps 100,000 eligible men and about the same number of eligible women.
If straight hair is more popular, maybe as many as 90% of the men prefer it. If most all the women have straight hair, those 100,000 women will be competing for the attentions of 90,000 men.
So she could be one of 100,000 women competing for the attentions of 90,000 men. Or she could leave her hair the way it is and be *uniquely* attractive to 10,000 men. The odds are far greater in her favor when she's in a minority than when she tries to be a part of the majority.
What she didn't realize was that her differences can often be her most powerful marketing assets. There's no reason to create artificial differences, but there's also no reason to suppress natural differences. By being willing to be in a minority, she could do away with most of the competition for the market that was hers.
What you are is the most valuable asset you possess for finding others. And the best way to find those people is to *advertise* what you really are. Not by running an ad in the newspaper, but by being honest about who you are.
No matter where you go, you never know whether someone you're seeking might see you. What a shame it would be if that person passed you by because you didn't reveal the qualities that both you and he admire most.
To reveal those qualities, you have to be willing to accept the disapproval of those you *aren't* seeking. It takes courage to overcome the embarrassment, self-consciousness, and even ridicule that might result from honest exposure of your nature -- *at first*. But that shouldn't last long; soon, you'll form associations that are far more rewarding than what you've tolerated in the past.
If you've been hiding your collection of James Bond books for the sake of your cultural friends, get them out, go to "007" movies, and be free to enjoy yourself and find the people who won't pressure you. Chances are you won't miss the evenings of "culture" and you'll soon forget the people you weren't in tune with.
And why should you suppress your desires when having sexual intercourse? That way you'll *never* experience it in the way you dream of it. Do it the way you've always wanted to do it -- cry or laugh or shout if you want to -- ask for what you want. Sure, *someone* may laugh at you, deny you, or even condemn you. But is *that* the person who can fulfill your dreams? One of these times someone's going to respond enthusiastically and gratefully -- and you'll know you've found someone wonderful.
The best method of advertising is simply to live the way *you* want to live.
Once you see the benefits of doing things *your* way, you may want to extend this practice to every area of your life. You might be encouraged to start handling your job the way you've always wanted to but for which you'd assumed there was no market.
And you might take seriously the thought that somewhere out there is someone with whom you could happily spend the rest of your life.
You are what you are. Your greatest pleasures will be those you experience when you can be yourself completely. Only then will you be free to enjoy every good thing the experience has to offer you. And you'll be more likely to find those experiences if you act sincerely at all times.
Being yourself is actually a skill. It takes time to become thoroughly acquainted with yourself, to throw off a lifetime of pressures, to relax and accept what you see in yourself (no matter how it may conflict with social standards), and to learn to act in ways consistent with your nature.
Advertising is a skill, too. It takes practice to learn how to advertise yourself. There are techniques to acquire and to practice until they become comfortable.
One of those techniques is to emphasize your differences. Try to reveal frequently the things about yourself that distinguish you from most others.
Your best prospects will respond when they see in you something they want that hasn't been available before. So advertise what makes you unique and what is most important to you -- and those who respond favorably will most likely be the ones you're looking for. If others respond unfavorably, they're simply disqualifying themselves from your interest.
What is commonly thought of as good advertising is usually very ineffective advertising. Superlatives -- words like "best," "quality," or "sensational" -- have little impact. Most people know intuitively that it may not mean "best" for the prospect.
Good advertising isn't flashy or imposing. Simply learn to reveal your qualities as they are appropriate to the situation. Let your differences be brought out in conversations -- without trying to demonstrate that you're different.
I can give you a good example. For years, whenever it was appropriate in conversations, lectures, and writing, I've casually mentioned one or more things such as: I'm single; I have no interest in governments, groups, crusades, or religions; I'm crazy about opera and other forms of classical music; I'm lazy and have learned to live with it and enjoy it; and I see nothing wrong with being selfish. (See how easy that was.)
I'm never evangelical about these things. I simply let them be known, one at a time, as appropriate.
Of course, I *could* join in the usual conversational attacks upon greed and selfishness, act as if I were a fervent believer in God and country, and show my interest in the prevailing social issues. But where would that get me? My competition would be overwhelming and my rewards inappropriate to me.
Far better to be honest. By doing so, I've been approached by many individuals who were glad to find that they had a friend in what they had thought was an alien world.
In fact, I've also made many friends whose ideas are considerably different from mine in some matters. They're quite willing to accept the things we have in common and leave the other matters alone. They don't pressure me to change my views -- probably because I'm not self-conscious about them and therefore not a likely convert.
A Natural Monopoly
As I've indicated, far from cutting down your market, revealing yourself as you are *increases* your best market -- whether you're concerned about personal or business relationships.
I was once asked by another writer if the uniqueness of my ideas didn't make me lonely. Wouldn't I feel more comfortable if more writers agreed with my views?
Obviously, no. My ideas may be the opposite of the popular views, but that doesn't mean there's no market for me. My market is bigger than it would be if I joined the crowd in an attempt to sell the more popular viewpoints.
My first book, published in 1970, suggested that the dollar would be devalued and that the economy was in bad shape -- the opposite opinion from literally dozens of contemporary books on the subject. By looking only for a publisher who already shared my viewpoint, I spared myself the grief of being rejected by the more orthodox publishers. The second one I contacted bought the book eagerly.
When it was published, it far outsold any of the books that expressed the more popular opinions. The other authors may have felt comfortable in their conformity, but they didn't make as much money from their books.
Should I feel sad that I held the minority opinion? There were literally millions of Americans who felt as I did about the future and who wanted suggestions for dealing with a sagging dollar and a vulnerable economy. They were an eager market and I was the only one offering anything to it.
There's no one in the world exactly like you. And when you find the market that wants what you are, your position is a solid as you could ever hope for. You have a *natural monopoly* in that market -- one that exists just because of what you are and requires no artificial devices to limit competition.
When you fight to compete with the crowd, competition is all around you and there's no way you can keep it out. But when you emphasize what *you* are, your market won't want anyone but you.
When you find the lover who's been looking for you, you won't need to restrict competition in any way -- for no one else will be able to provide what that person needs most. Any exposure to others will only point up your unique value by comparison.
When you emphasize your unique professional talents, your customers won't be interested in the competition because it won't be offering what you offer.
In any area of life, you have a natural monopoly of the unique combination of traits that you possess. The only effective way to rule out competition is to find the market that wants your traits above all others. And you'll find it and keep it by having the courage to stand up for what you are.
When you find that market, you'll wonder why you ever restricted yourself in order to get along with those who were incompatible with you.
Dealing With Restrictions
Most social restrictions are self-inflicted. Your life is yours to live as you choose. If you give up what you want because of someone's disapproval, you have only yourself to blame -- because *you* made the choice; he didn't. He told you what he wanted, but he has no power to enforce it.
You can do with your life what you want. You don't have to work at a "normal" job. You can try your luck at anything. Do you want to be an artist? Tour guide? Gigolo? Do what you want to do -- so long as you can make enough to survive while you're doing it.
You don't have to spend money on a new car and a respectable home to impress your neighbors, business associates, and friends. Why should you? Let them eat TV dinners in their new cars while you use your money to take the vacation you've always wanted.
Do you want to grow a beard or have longer hair? Do it. If your employer objects, look for a job where that's not a problem. Don't expect your employer to forsake his self-interest for you; but neither is there any reason for you to forsake yours for him.
If your social contacts object, so what? How important are they to you? If their approval is based upon matters of fashion, are you sure they have anything to offer you?
Is it necessary to go to parties and attend other social functions in order to be accepted? That depends upon whose acceptance you're seeking. Go where *you* want most to go; you're most likely to meet the people you seek there.
Do you want to smoke marijuana? Do it. Since it's legally prohibited, don't do it at the Policeman's Ball -- but that might not be where you'd expect to find new friends anyway. Don't make a social movement out of your personal tastes and you won't get into trouble. Just smoke it quietly with those you value and trust.
Do some people get upset when you express your emotions -- if you cry when you're moved, laugh when you see something ridiculous? Don't be bullied by those who say you shouldn't be so emotional. Find those who understand such things and appreciate your honesty.
Do those in your social circle make you feel pressured to live up to certain intellectual standards? If so, you may be in the wrong place. It might be that you haven't yet accurately identified your own beliefs and standards -- and these people seemed to be of the type you wanted. One way to tell whether they are is by noticing if that kind of pressure exists. If it does, keep trying to recognize yourself more clearly, and then look for people like that.
There isn't any society to disapprove, to disallow, to denounce, or to ostracize you. It's a myth. I wonder how many millions of lives have been tossed onto the junkpile to appease an entity that never existed.
Be honest with yourself and with others and act toward others as you'd like to be treated, and you'll have a far greater chance to attract people valuable to you. The others are unimportant to your future -- if your future is to be free.
There's a beautiful world out there. Why clutter it up with relationships that don't belong in your life?
It's an easy life. Why complicate it by trying to be all things to all people?
Adopt the image that's most effective -- your own.
"Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist."
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson