I took a bite of chicken. I know I know it’s not that big of a deal. It’s chicken. But, you see, I told people that I was a vegetarian, which I am, except for that one time I took a bit of chicken. Oh, and I eat fish sometimes. So now it’s different and I need to let people know so that no one will think I am fraud and a fake. I mean we all know those “vegetarians” who say they don’t eat meat and then eat meat when they feel like it. Right?
It wasn’t even free range organic chicken from the farmer that I know (who I once told that if I was going to eat chicken-it would be from him). It was from a fast food restaurant and it was fried. I don’t know even know what kind of oil it was fried in. Who am I!?!?
It’s not the end of the world that after almost 10 years of being meatless I ate a bite of meat. It doesn’t make me a failure and it doesn’t define me. I am a person who eats food and some of the time it is vegetables and some of the time it is a bite of chicken.
We tend to work really hard to find our category or label and then stick with it. At our very core we all want to find a place that we fit in, feel loved, feel validated, and will be accepted. We find labels that link us to others. But sometimes those labels don’t always fit.
Recently, while in on a trip, I saw this group of white pelicans fishing in the ocean. 50 pelicans were swimming in a pack (or a school or a flock) and at the same exact time they would all dive their heads into the water and fish. Then, again, at the same exact time they would raise their heads out of the water. They were perfectly in sync and would win a gold medal if this were synchronized swimming.
But there was this one pelican that wouldn’t comply. She (I like to think of her as a rebellious girl) was swimming a little outside of the pack and diving down and back up at completely different times. Her feathers were a little out of place and she looked disheveled. I immediately connected with her.
It got me thinking about how conformity started as a means to safety and ease. Animals who hunted or fished together were more likely to get fed. For the pelicans, they could drive schools of fish into shallow water making fishing way easier than if they were out on their own.
It’s also safer to be in a group. If they were to be confronted by prey they were stronger, and scarier, and faster. So the group would shame those who didn’t conform in order to protect the unit as a whole. I mean you wouldn’t want some crazed pelican making a scene.
So at our core we are built to feel shame when we stray from our group. Or, on the flip side to feel safe when we stay in the group. This makes perfect sense to me but sometimes it sucks. I spent years of my life doing things that didn’t exactly fit because it “felt safe.” I gave myself a label, I acted out my role, and I never challenged a thing. Ironically, it was quite the opposite of safe.
And I didn’t want to leave my group until I had a new group to jump right in to. Problem was, there was no group that fit me exactly. I was trying to fit in the box and fulfill the stereotype. So instead of changing I was stuck, scared, and I felt like something bad would happen if I went out on my own.
We are all unique. We all have a story and there is no one else in the whole wide world exactly like me or you. That means it must be safe to be ourselves. Right? I have to lean inward. I have rely on myself, my heart, and my soul. I just can’t check everything with the group first. It paralyzes my ability to create happiness from within.
You see, I am the crazed pelican (and you might be too). I am right there with the group. I get it, I need them, I feel them, but I have my own thing going on. Can I still swim beside you? Can I get distracted and swim away some? Can I still gain from the whole? Can I encourage a few of you to stray a bit just to see what you find? Can we widen our span and still be safe?
I think it’s worth finding out.