YOUTH IN FOCUS: I am a graduate and a decent guy, but I dye my hair red and keep it spiky. My parents and relatives nag me about it continuously. I don’t know what the problem is, but their comments are beginning to make me feel depressed. Should I cut my hair and look like everyone else or should I keep my style? Lama help me.

Spiky hair guy, Thimphu

Hi Spiky Hair Guy. Well, I don’t have the right to tell you how to live and so I’ll just throw out some ideas for you to consider.

Basically, ‘social norms’ are codes of behavior and dress styles that help members of social groups feel comfortable and relaxed with each other.  Certain animals have similar codes of social behaviour. As an example, observe how a dog enters the territory of unknown dogs. He drops his tail and head and walks very slowly, almost respectfully. As a result, the other dogs identify him as unthreatening and allow him to mingle with the pack. Had he not adopted these familiar codes of behaviour, he may have been perceived as a threat and attacked.

In this respect, your parent’s nagging is just a way to persuade you to adopt social norms so that you will be accepted by society and be safe. Consequently, you should not feel irritated by their words but instead understand that they have your best interests at heart.

From another side, we should realise that social norms are not universal laws that are fixed and permanent. Contrarily, they have developed over a time and are constantly changing according to new influences and social needs.

To realise this point, we only have to examine trends in modern history. At certain times long hair was the social norm for men, while at other times short hair was the accepted style. A century ago in the west, women’s clothes that revealed ankles were condemned, whereas now even short skirts are accepted. Likewise, some religious schools consider a shaved head as a symbol of devotion, whereas in other traditions long hair is regarded as a sign of piety. Consequently, we understand that hair styles are not in themselves innately good or bad. It is people that make such distinctions based on their particular social and educational influences.

Therefore, while codes of behavior and style are important for social interaction, we need to keep things in perspective. Ultimately, they are just man-made tools of communication that will change in a short space of time.  Certainly, we should not discriminate against someone because of their hairstyle, but instead view such issues wisely and with an open mind. As the Buddha has taught, fixed and rigid biases create prejudice and intolerance and are the root of violence towards others.

Maybe this Buddhist story will help put things in perspective. Once there was a sweeper lady. She worked hard, but her clothes were often smelly and so people ignored her. Then, one day the Buddha visited the town where the sweeper lady worked and warmly chatted with her. The people were shocked and said to the Buddha, “You always tell us to be clean. Yet, you talk with this sweeper lady”. The Buddha replied, “Her clothes may be smelly, but her mind is clean. She is polite and works hard for others. Some people might look tidy, but their minds are full of bad thoughts”.  We should think about this teaching before we pass judgment on others based on their outer appearance.

Personally, I don’t have strong feelings about people’s hairstyle. To me, it is more important that a person treats others kindly and with respect than the way they style their hair. Also, from my experiences around the world I can honestly say that I have not noticed any connection between hairstyle and a person’s character. In fact, I have known many people with so-called decent, standard hairstyle who have a really bad attitude and are dishonest. The reverse is also true.

Anyway, irrespective of how you decide to style your hair, I would advise you to keep a physical discipline. Maintaining personal hygiene will help raise your mental energy and also it shows respect to others.

Shenphen Zangpo was born in Swansea, UK, but spent more than 28 years practicing and studying Buddhism in Taiwan and Japan. Currently, he works with the youth and substance abusers in Bhutan, teaching meditation and organising drug outreach programmes.

Email to for any queries



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