Lines are drawn all the time. Picket lines, protest lines, neighborhood lines, party lines, team lines…they are everywhere. The lines mark a shift in something. They might mark a shift in geography, economy, ethnicity, culture, or values. With all the lines being drawn, the only act that prevents compete isolation is when someone crosses the line. They are the ones that cross the picket line, venture across the tracks, or are willing to play with the other team.
What makes someone cross a line? It could be a desire to explore what’s beyond the worlds they currently know. Or maybe they feel forced away by a change in their current group, or a change in themselves. In this case there is a lack of alignment between the individual and the members of the group that literally pushes the individual over the line.
Having operated in multiple different communities, many of which don’t naturally overlap, I’ve found myself continually crossing lines. In order to feel comfortable in a given community I often would take on characteristics of the members. I would imitate fashion, mannerisms, and language – and not just the words, but the patterns and rhythms of speech. However this became challenging and awkward as I developed a different “character” of sorts for every group of people I was around. Once I recognized I was doing this I began to work in the opposite direction. I started attempting to reconcile all these characters I had built to my personal sensibilities, the character I had individually, and most importantly, to the values I hold.
This work of reintegration, saved my sanity, but I also found it extremely difficult. The hardest part was parsing what, in the forms of expression I had adopted, was a preference and what was tied to a value. For instance, some of the language I had adopted was preferred communication for a particular group, but I could communicate the same thoughts using different words if I chose to. While other language I adopted was absolutely necessary to communicate a particular thought. The first kind of language was preferential, but not tied to the fundamental value of communication. The latter was tied to communicating well.
The other difficulty was dealing with the perception of others. Members of any group derive a sense of security through the sameness the group shares. Similar language, creative expressions, and values, provide ease in relationship. You don’t have to worry about everyone you meet. If they are a member of your group, they are assumed to subscribe to a similar value set. Here again as I was adopted into many groups, as I began to discover my own character, not just mirror those around me, differences began to arise. Sometimes this lead to tension. Sometimes relationships just drifted apart. And sometimes relationships grew stronger. Regardless there was less room for lukewarmness.
The ability to mirror is not inherently bad, however, it does a disservice to the discovery of what has been instilled in a person. Better to forge the path given to you, than to hide among the group. At least then the group will have heard the true voice you’ve been given, not just a reflection of their own.
As for crossing the lines, I’ve found that the more I discover who I’ve been made to be, and who others have been made to be, the less actual lines I see.