Column on Tempted by One Size Fits All

Tempted by One Size Fits All

Tibor R. Machan

For
most of human history it used to be standard practice for parents to
insist that their children not only live by principles the parents have
found to be sound but also to adopt all sorts of practices of dress,
play, work, taste and so forth that they approve of.  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 of such a thing.


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, if for no other reason than because people faced significantly
different situations in their lives.  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–say if one weighs the same
as someone else where weight is what counts for most.  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.


But
not everyone likes it and bad habits die hard. Even in markets it is
very tempting to treat all potential customers as if the same goods and
services were proper for them all.  Thus we have mass marketing of stuff
that really can only benefit some people–a certain type of exercise, a
back ache cure, or a headache remedy.  The more this is understood, the
more the notion starts to make sense that one person’s way of life
could well be perfectly well suited for that person without this being
an offense to others for whom it is not suitable. 


Yet
the idea persists that everyone ought to worship alike or admire the
same artists or fashion designer’s work.  Here the temptation isn’t just
a mistake but also a desperate hope since if one size does fit all,
those who make that size will be able to cash in on this big time.
 Everyone should love Pepsi, Coca Cola, a Chevy, a Volkswagen, or a
Bentley or take a vow of poverty or love the outdoors.  Of course in
some cases qualitative considerations do recommend conforming to what
others prefer and do but more often what is best for Jerry could well
not be best for Harry or, especially, for Sue.


Figuring
out when one size does versus does not fit all–or most–isn’t that
easy but it is usually worth the trouble, at least if it matters how
happy one will be with what one pursues, has, or does in one’s life.
 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.

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