Why do Zebras have stripes? Because they stay in a herd and stripes make it easy for them to blend in. Because of Zebra’s stripes, it becomes difficult for the Lion to mark its prey, isolate it and catch it. A Zebra without stripes would be easy for the lion to spot, gauge its movements and attack.

Lions, on the other hand, have brown coats. Because of this, it becomes difficult for the Zebras to spot the Lion against the brown background of African Grasslands.

Over the course of evolution, animals have always found ways to blend in. Standing out has been detrimental to their living. Blending in, has been our natural instinct. It kept us safe.

Man left his nomadic lifestyle and settled down only about 10,000 years ago. 10,000 years is a significantly short period of time from the point of view of evolution. He hasn’t yet lost some of his basic instincts. In computer terminology, the ‘default setting’ of man is blending in, not standing out.

Have you noticed how vulnerable you feel when you stand out? I would seldom ask questions in the quiet classroom, or would never interrupt during a meeting at the office. When my teacher asked a question in the class, and expected someone to answer, I would hope and pray that she wouldn’t point her finger to me, ask me to stand up and answer.

Giving a presentation in the class, or giving a speech in front of the school assembly, would give me shivers. I would be so terrified in such situations that I could hear my heart pounding through my ears. What if I go blank? What if people laugh at me? What if my fly is open? Will people see the creased shirt I am wearing? Will they notice my unclean shoes? What if I have a slip of tongue and say something rubbish?

Such was my fear of standing out, that I would hesitate to say a loud enough ‘Excuse me’ in a restaurant, to get the attention of the waiter. Will I be disturbing others if I call him too loudly? Will it look rude and narcissistic? If the waiter doesn’t hear me, but people next to me do, will they laugh at me being ignored? What if the waiter really ignores me or worst still, says something rude to me?

I feel like everyone in the room is watching me and judging me. Attracting eyeballs feels extremely uncomfortable and unnatural. I feel like that Zebra, who volunteers to go to the pond and drink first, while his thirsty herd watches. Would there be Crocodiles lurking in the pond? Would there be Lions waiting patiently in the nearby bushes looking for an opportunity to pounce?

Off late, I have decided to be confident and bold. Whenever it is time to stand out, the little computer in my head triggers a warning : Are you sure you want to change this default setting?

I have now lived long enough to know that no matter what, my life will not be in danger if I stand out. I promptly press ‘YES’.