One size doesn’t fit all

By Tibor Machan: Freedom columnist

For most of human history, it used to be standard practice for parents to insist their children live by principles the parents have found to be sound. They also insisted children adopt all sorts of practices of dress, play, work, taste and so forth that they approve.

Father was a barber, so son, too, had to be; mother raised four children, so daughter, too, must bear the same number. Parents liked living by the sea, so the kids too must follow suite. Indeed, if a child had another idea, all hell tended to break loose. And those around the family who didn’t conform were deemed to be weird or inferior or just plain different in that sort of way that’s quite intolerant.

In some cases this was a useful practice but more often it was a matter of habit, nothing much else. And since there are some matters concerning which one size does indeed fit all — such as certain ways of dealing with other people, certain ways to governing one’s life, and certain ways of setting up a human community, e.g., honestly, prudently, and justly, respectively — the idea has always been somewhat palatable.

In nutrition, medicine, engineering, farming and so on some ways clearly are better than others no matter who is doing it.

Yet, it dawned on many folks in time that not everyone should act the same way, work on the same tasks, or wear the same kind of clothes or haircut.

And, most evidently, they were themselves rather different, even unique. So a tall son would not fit well in the kind of clothes worn by a diminutive father. Hat and shoe and glove sizes aren’t the same for all.

And once these and other differences got noticed and taken more and more seriously — as individuals were being paid more attention to as individuals — others managed to surface.

In time the notion emerged that individuality is itself something important in our lives, that one isn’t replaceable by someone else except in special circumstances.

So while in team sports substitutions are routine, they cannot easily be replicated elsewhere, such as in romantic love or friendship.

Once it is clear that it isn’t just what one is but who one is that matters a lot, the one size fits all mentality comes under serious challenge.

Figuring out when one size does fit all isn’t that easy but it is usually worth the trouble.

For wearing the hat that doesn’t fit one is clearly uncomfortable, to say the least; and pursuing a career that will not be fulfilling can be a major hindrance to living happily.