As human beings, our innate nature is to imitate others; it is our first form of learning. As babies, we gaze at the mouths of our parents before we attempt to garble our first words, we learn to wave and clap our hands following our parents’ actions and when we are applauded for correct imitation, it is ingrained within us that the art of imitation is rewarding. At the beginning of our life’s journey, imitation serves us well and equips us with the necessary tools to integrate into human society.
It’s all pretty straightforward and easy as a child, until we hit adolescence and we rebel from emulating our parents. Having satisfied our minds with shadowing our parents, we now think we know better or if not better, we at least recognise that there is more out there from which our sponge-like brains can benefit, we now look for external spheres of influence from which to fill ourselves with other imitative practices. Our nature of simulating others doesn’t change, but our lens widens and now celebrity culture becomes a stronger influence, as well as the cliques in school and our teachers who we respect and who reward us in similar ways to our parents. Similitudes are sought after principles of our youth that grant us reassurance and comfort and the fine art of imitation helps propagate certain uniformity within our social circles.
As we enter the more independent realm of responsibility that adulthood (so kindly) brings with it, our inherent imitative nature never departs us but it now begins to offer us limitations to our growth, development and self-contentment.
Imitation and limitations
At multiple points in the life we find ourselves navigating through, we will confront an obstacle that no one else we know has encountered, we will seek counsel in others we trust and in whom we’ve found answers and guidance before but oftentimes their knowledge will be limited to their personal experiences and so we will find ourselves relatively alone. It is in this lonely place, in finding ourselves at a station in life where we have no ability to imitate someone else, we finally build our own character, we finally piece together a bit of our own identity, we finally lay down the bricks in the foundations of the home within ourselves. I think the wiser folk call it character building or soul edification.
Essentially, the principles of imitation rely on the premise that we are all the same but since we are all undeniably unique, conditioned and shaped by the hand life has dealt us, we cannot look to others, compare ourselves and find answers within them that can only be found within ourselves.
Throughout life, I’ve met many imposters, imitating others to find self-contentment. But self-contentment does not lie in the imitation of others, it lies in the acceptance of all the variables of life, it lies in letting go of your fears and stepping into life and living it to its fullness, as you once did as a child, before the boundaries society put up around you, before we were conditioned to be careful, be vigilant, be compliant. We only get one chance at this life, wouldn’t it be a travesty if we spent it walking around in a self-imposed cocoon of cotton wool, protected and shielded from experiencing life itself? How utterly exhausting for some to spend their life comparing themselves to others and yet never feeling satisfied. Satisfaction and self-contentment does not come from the imitation of others but from the finding of the self through life experience. There is no substitute for the fulfilment one feels from achieving ones goals through ones own hard work and dedication.
“Confidence isn’t walking into a room with your nose in the air, and thinking you are better than everyone else, it’s walking into a room and not having to compare yourself to anyone in the first place.” – (writer: unknown)
When you find yourself altering the very fabric of your being, unravelling the threads by which your essence is stitched, that’s when you know you’ve gone a step too far in trying to please society or gain self-contentment by imitation. Your soul was born free and unique, not to be cloned in the trappings of mediocrity and uniformity.
If imitation doesn’t inspire you to greatness it’s naught but a shallow endeavour. Surround yourself with those that will inspire you to the betterment of your soul rather than the advancement of lowly desires and worldly pursuits.
Imitation is the highest form of flattery but the surest loss of distinction
The benefits of striving and searching for similarities between us are not at debate here. Flattery by imitating the good practices of others is not being questioned here. What is at debate here is the loss of the self and individualism through excessive imitative practices that are becoming our social norm.
Societal conformity and widespread secularism that now permeates our Western societies advocates that we hide away our personal spiritual choices and in aligning ourselves with the state mandate, the beauty of diversity within our communities is under attack.
Social media and the advent of artificial reality television celebrities without talent or intellect save for getting rich quick at whatever cost to the soul are stifling the evolution of our younger generation.
We are habitually copying shallow trends but failing to emulate deeper, more meaningful and positive traits we observe in others. We will ardently follow fashion trends, popular television series and mainstream music but we won’t emulate progressive, healthier, more beneficial traits that would feed our soul, such as acts of charity, opening our eyes and hands to the suffering of others, travelling and marvelling at the glory of creation all around us.
The soul comes alive with each new life experience, whether good or bad, happy or sad, it’s still an experience of a new emotion or an old emotion experienced on a new level, a higher plane. The real tragedy would be in a soul that’s dormant to the journey of life itself, caged by a self-imposed exile of the mind, governed and dictated by others.
Imitation is certainly the highest form of flattery but at what cost is it to your own identity?
I’d rather be myself than anyone else and I think the world would be a richer place if everyone found their own identities rather than comparing themselves to others and wishing they were someone else entirely. The world is becoming increasingly deficient of distinction and individualism. A little more self-love, less holding on to our insecurities would do us all the world of good. Lets put a cap on narcissistic tendencies though; there’s only room for one Kanye at any one time.
I part with one of my favourite quotes from William Shakespeare:
“This above all; to thine own self be true.”