How many of us feel free to truly be ourselves? When we're on the job we hold our tongues, lest we displease our supervisors. When we're out on the town, we dress in a fashionable style, lest we embarrass our peers. When we're in class, we regurgitate our professor's words, lest we receive a poor grade.
The sad fact of the matter is sticking our necks out in the name of individualism can be a risky endeavor. Far better, we tell ourselves, to go along in order to get along.
Yet deep down we admire those who don't fear the consequences of individualism, who refuse to be defined by trends or societal pressures. Perhaps that's part of the reason why the author Flannery O'Connor is held in such high regard to this day.
O'Connor was a devout Catholic who lived deep in the Protestant south. She was also an Irish American who believed Irish Americans were silly to focus on their heritage (why not just be happy being American?). Lastly, O'Connor was a traditional storyteller who lived in a time when storytelling was thought to be an inferior aspect of literature.
Part of the reason O'Connor is relevant today is because she stayed true to herself. Simply put, she wasn't one to bend to the tastes and expectations of those around her. Of course, writing stories like Everything That Rises Must Converge and Good Country People helped make it all possible. It's hard to criticize a person for not “getting with the program,”after all, when that person has penned A Good Man Is Hard To Find.
Still, all of this begs the question: Can those of us without O'Connor-sized talent still manage to get away with truly being ourselves? There's no known answer, really. All that can be said is O'Connor had no idea how great her own talent was when she started off. She simply took the risk.
Do we dare to follow suit?