THINK­ING CAP 1

You are not alone in want­ing to be alone (and be­long at the same time). A guide on how to stay sane through grow­ing pains

Scout - - INSIDE SCOUT - BY CRISTINA TANTENGCO IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY KEESHIA FELIPE

As a kid, I be­came aware of the ex­is­tence of groups by find­ing out I wasn’t part of one. If you rode a time ma­chine and vis­ited 1998, you’d meet a round-faced lit­tle girl who was raised on Dis­ney movies and spoke English bet­ter than she did Filipino, and the rest of her Grade 1 class who’d de­cided to ig­nore her for be­ing maarte.

Our school had a strict pol­icy for uni­for­mity, which they said was a way to curb jeal­ousy and fight­ing among stu­dents. Ev­ery­thing from our bags to our shoes and note­books had to be bought from the school. The re­sult: a mafia of clones, or at least as mafia as a co-ed Montes­sori school could be.

Peo­ple ran in crews, and there was a very spe­cific recipe to be ac­cepted: Don’t smile while you’re walk­ing. Don’t own any­thing im­ported. Don’t eat Froot Loops; eat corn­flakes in­stead. Wear uni­forms two sizes too big and hike the sleeves up like a tough guy. Look like you’d rather be else­where. Don’t try too hard. Don’t try at all.

Over the course of my grade school ed­u­ca­tion, I ditched the ac­cent, learned to curse, in­ten­tion­ally spilled soy sauce on my clothes, and de­vel­oped a rest­ing bitch face. Ul­ti­mately, fit­ting in came at the cost of hold­ing my­self back. Dur­ing the sixth grade, our P.E. class had a cheer­lead­ing demon­stra­tion. “Smile!” my mom was yelling from the au­di­ence.

No! I thought, wav­ing the pom­poms. Don’t you know what they’ll do to me?

We do crazy things to fit in. A 2014 study by The Pew Re­search Cen­ter, a non-profit think tank, found that we’re less likely to share and dis­cuss un­pop­u­lar opin­ions on so­cial me­dia—even less than we’d do so in per­son. “The spi­ral of si­lence,” they called it. We pre­tend to like movies we’ve never seen. We hate on al­bums we haven’t lis­tened to. We smooth our edges to meet new peo­ple. We fake cul­tural lit­er­acy out of a loy­alty to the col­lec­tive. I’ve never seen a Daniel Padilla te­len­ov­ela, but for some rea­son I feel like he’s a lit­tle prick.

At some point, we’re all just say­ing yes to the dom­i­nant per­son or ide­ol­ogy in the room. Or to word it in a way we en­counter ev­ery day, what­ever’s #trend­ing.

Or we can go in the com­pletely op­po­site di­rec­tion, giv­ing up on the col­lec­tive in fa­vor of rad­i­cal in­di­vid­u­al­ism. When I moved to an ex­clu­sive, all-girls Catholic high school, ev­ery­thing was in re­verse. Pretty was pretty, cool was cool. All my en­ergy at try­ing to be part of the in crowd had been used up by then, so I re­sorted to the next best thing: Ev­ery­thing else.

With a mas­sive stu­dent pop­u­la­tion (400 stu­dents per batch com­pared to my grade school’s 90), there were lots of sub­cul­tures to dis­cover. I be­came a party plat­ter of dif­fer­ent in­ter­ests: black nails, a care­fully cu­rated iPod, de­bate club, lady­bug cos­tumes for Hal­loween, es­say con­tests, a love for French films, a band that had only one gig ever. I even trained as an al­tar girl just to find out what com­mu­nion bread tasted like; I’m not even Catholic.

For the first time, I didn’t feel the need to be cool or part of a group. I was happy to have that free­dom. The down­side? After a few years, be­ing dif­fer­ent be­came a crutch. I re­al­ized this dur­ing my fresh­man year in col­lege, when I went to a salon and chose the most out­landish hair­cut in the cat­a­log. The thought: I can’t be vanilla. And so I ended up with a bowl cut that was a cross be­tween Spock and a bowl­ing ball. Con­se­quence: No photo of me was taken for the next six months.

Fast-for­ward a few years and I’d like to think I’ve mel­lowed. I still like French films and In­cubus, but I’ve given up on short hair and have come to terms with the fact that I don’t have the skills for mu­si­cal the­atre. I’d rather err on the side of in­di­vid­u­al­ity and the free­dom it brings, but now that the awk­ward years are out of the way, col­lec­tives don’t seem so bad.

Just as groups can bring out the worst in us, they can also bring out the best in us. What makes the dif­fer­ence is the cul­ture within a group. Google’s work­ing cul­ture, which is built around em­ployee free­dom and play, has been sin­gled out as one of the best in the world for en­cour­ag­ing cre­ativ­ity. Lo­cally, stu­dent groups raise funds for the vic­tims of ty­phoons and earth­quakes. And at the risk of over­sim­pli­fy­ing things, bat­tles were never won alone.

“For (pro­duc­tive in­ter­ac­tions) to hap­pen, you also need to shape a com­mu­nity,” an­a­lyst Ben Waber told The New York Times. “That means if you’re stressed, there’s some­one to help, to take up the slack. If you’re sur­rounded by friends, you’re hap­pier, you’re more loyal, you’re more pro­duc­tive. Google looks at this holis­ti­cally. It’s the an­tithe­sis of the old fac­tory model, where peo­ple were just cogs in a ma­chine.”

After my bowl cut phase, I be­gan to open up to groups again. Since then, some of my most re­ward­ing ex­pe­ri­ences have been as part of a team: join­ing the univer­sity pa­per, work­ing on GMA News TV’s Biyahe ni Drew, and run­ning

Ka­musta?, an al­ter­na­tive travel mag­a­zine, with col­lege friends. I re­cently changed jobs to work at Bad Idea, a brand­ing firm whose open cul­ture re­minded me of Google’s. No more in­ten­tional soy sauce spillage!

In all my ex­pe­ri­ences with “good col­lec­tives,” what they had in common was that the team didn’t tamp down on in­di­vid­ual cre­ativ­ity but in­stead en­cour­aged it.

Per­haps the an­swer isn’t to pick sides be­tween the col­lec­tive and the in­di­vid­ual but to seek a cul­ture—whether in the school, the work­place, the so­ci­ety, or in our­selves—that bal­ances both. In other words, it’s col­lab­o­ra­tion: work­ing to­wards the same goal but be­ing brave enough to do it your way. In col­lab­o­ra­tive cul­tures, the col­lec­tive does not im­pose a mono­lithic ideal (i.e. “Don’t eat corn­flakes”) but in­stead fa­cil­i­tates in­di­vid­ual thought.

With the right en­vi­ron­ment, we step up to do our best. After all, we do crazy things to fit in.

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