Shel Silverstein was a favorite of mine when I was a child. “Where the Sidewalk Ends” seemed to always be checked out of the library growing up. Yet after all these years I let him slip by the wayside; I forgot about him and his images and his poetry. I forgot about the whimsy in his work and the way it used to speak to my very core.
The above is called ‘Thinker of Tender Thoughts’ and I think it sums up more in pictures than I could ever explain in words. It makes me think of my two year old niece and her unbridled personality. She is truly her own person and I marvel at it every day. As of yet she has been free of the cruelty of society. No one has laughed at her on the playground, she has never had her sense of self questioned, and in all of her childhood innocence she is beautiful. I wish with all my heart that she could remain in that state of pure, unhindered her-ness.
Yet as the image above shows, even as we develop ourselves, our personalities, and our thoughts, we are easily cut down by the words of others. The man in the wordless poem thinks and dreams and dances to the beat of his own drum. The flowers represent his thoughts and his divergence from everyone else. He is different, he is unique, he is himself, and from the look of it he is content with who he is.
Problems arise, however, when he is faced with the people around him. Across the page are men without flowers growing from their head, men who have torn away their own uniqueness in order to fit in to the societal standard. They think like they are supposed to think and ridicule anyone who believes otherwise. This leads them to ridicule the man with the flowers growing out of his head who has, until that moment, embraced his differences. In the face of societal pressure he caves and decides to fit in instead of standing out. He cuts off the symbolic flowers and steps in to join the rest of society.
It is utterly depressing to realize just how accurate this image is. When will my niece come home from interacting with her peers and decide to throw out things she loves because someone made fun of her and called her weird? How many times as a child did I give up something that was inexplicably me because my peers ridiculed me for being different? By the time we’re shaped and thrust into the world of adulthood, we’re left to either continue to conform to societal norms (whatever they may be) or fight to regain our sense of self, our sense of originality. We have to find ourselves again.
I can’t help but wonder if that is why so many young people find themselves in the midst of an existential crisis when they should be focusing on accepting themselves and living life fully.
To conclude, my one hope is this: that we will be able to find ourselves in the midst of the pressures, expectations, and obligations society thrusts upon us daily.