There seems to be an ever-increasing trend toward casual behavior in many facets of society today, including business, education, and social life. This could be due to the worship-like level for personal comfort in America, paired with an ever growing, literally, population of obese citizens. While these two are very powerful forces, I suggest another. That would be the fears of formality, which include but are not limited to, the fear of being boring, the fear of being perceived as phony, artificial, or untrustworthy, and the fear of failure.

It’s human nature to want attention and acceptance. We all want to be noticed and appreciated for something. Our first opportunities to experience these were at parties when we were younger. Who didn’t hope to be invited to a birthday party? What parent wasn’t relieved when an invitation finally came? The greatest longing for children, other than love and safety with a family, is for friends. The more the better!

For most, the earliest opportunities to fulfill this longing for friendship was at school. This was also where most got their early impressions of “formal” rules and expectations. Many of these rules, at least as remembered in the minds of some, were oftentimes emphasized with “don’t”. “Stand in line but don’t touch, don’t blurt-raise your hand, don’t run in the building, don’t talk, don’t yell, don’t sing, don’t dance”. Some accepted and valued these teachings as a way to set boundaries, maintain order, or fit in with a group based on consideration of and for others. Others perceived these as a straight jacket on individuality. The beginning of “boring”. A set of rules determined to ruin individual expression rather than teach societal responsibility and conformity; thus, a fear of formal, and a fear being bored and boring.

Many a Western movie portrays the gambler as the shyster, the dandy with the smooth hands and fancy clothes, the one not to be trusted. Many a country bumpkin had been warned to “Beware the smooth talker”. Some perceive formal as a way to hide something inferior or underhanded under more pleasant or distracting coverings. Like a cheap gift, wrapped in beautiful paper.

In the West, we tend to think or become suspect that someone is trying too hard to make an impression or putting on airs. They may be trying to present themselves as being better than they are, or at least, of more importance than those around them. We’ve all known someone who was nice and polite to our face, but quite different when we weren’t around.

In our fear of being perceived as phony, artificial, untrustworthy or pretentious, we are quick to “dispose of formalities” and claim to be “real”. Let’s just kick back and relax…at all times and in all places. While this is not a bad idea as a whole, we all have our paths crossed daily by real people. Some are “real rude”, “real unkind”, “real selfish”, “and real difficult to be around”.

I believe the most deep-seated and more powerful fear perpetuating the casual trend is the fear of failure to live up to the formal promise. The fear an individual has regarding their own skills to deliver what dress, actions, words, appearance, a “formal” education or training may have promised. Some get so overwhelmed by the fear of not-fitting-in, not living up to the expectations of others, not being as polished as they had hoped, that they choose to not be part of the challenge. No one wants to be the inferior gift in the shiny box. So they stay away from the party. They skip the dance.

In answer to the question, who’s afraid of formal, the answer would be, each of us has been at some time in our lives. A more telling question, however, would be, what did you do about it? Did you proceed with caution and courage and learn from your mistakes? Did you read a book, take a class, get training to improve your social skills, or did you just recline back and say its too much work? Did you take a risk, or did you pass on opportunities to learn something new about yourself or others? Did you judge and criticize, or did you change? Its not too late.