To paraphrase a quote, who would you be if you didn’t listen to the world?
I am not sure what kind of place the world would be, or what kind of person I personally would be, if each of us followed our own internal path and uniquely defined ourselves on our own terms?
Obviously we all need some indoctrination by our parents, society and culture, but how much of what we have been taught is right thinking? How much of it is true for you? Is there a chance that some of the tried and true thoughts on living a fruitful and meaningful life have morphed over time or been outright hijacked, perhaps to serve others needs more so than yours?
It’s an interesting mental exercise to think back over your life and remember life’s milestone decisions. How much personal input did you have in the decision to choose your direction at that moment?
When you reach the age of 18 it is said you’ve reached the age of majority, which means you are no longer a minor; technically you’re an adult. Supposedly or theoretically you can start calling your own shots. Is this true? I think to a small degree it is true, but for the most part it means that you will be held responsible for your own actions. How much of your actions are your own?
Think back to the age of 18, you have or will shortly complete your high school education. I assume some plans have been made regarding your future. Go to college. Go to a vocational school. Join the military. Get a job. Lots of supposed choices, but to what degree did you decide?
For teens of my generation, the choice and opportunity to pursue a college education was deemed a very big deal. Most of our parents hadn’t gone to college and within my family, my generation was the first to go to college and get degrees. So if you were of reasonable intelligence and had relatively modest financial resources not going to college was perceived as a lost opportunity and was viewed as reckless. This was because our parents didn’t have the same opportunity and a college degree was a relative rarity at the time. Theoretically it gave you a leg up in the world.
At the time, was going or not going to college a real independent choice we made or was it a choice made by default based upon perceptions by our parent’s generation? Not only was going to college prefaced as being a smart move for the children, but didn’t it grant a family some status in the community by their ability to send their kids to college? I am pretty sure sending your kids to college had some cache within our parents’ social groups.
So you go to school, not really knowing what you want to do with your life, or maybe you did, and you pick a major. You invest four years of your life in pursuit of that degree and when you get out, you look for work in “your chosen” field. You find a job, get married, have kids, get a loan, buy a house and so it goes.
You had to graduate in four years or you were a slacker. If you changed majors, even if it was a smart decision for you, you were indecisive. If you didn’t pursue a career based upon your college degree it was heresy. If you changed careers years later, by choice, you were seen as unreliable. Divorce was a major social stigma at the time, regardless of why.
Remember that age 18 is the time at which you’re legally responsible for your actions. Your decisions precede actions. In the simple but common scenario above how many decisions were actually made and how many were simply done by default? That is what we have been programmed to do; it is actually called “getting with the program”, isn’t it?
I am fifty-one. I look back at my life and fortunately I am wise enough to know that what has happened has happened and I have no regrets. However it is plain to see in my own life how many decisions were very strongly influenced by my upbringing, the society and culture in which I existed. Maybe that is just the way it works, but I can see where I stood at a fork in the road and I can clearly remember what my thinking was at the time.
More often than not, my decisions were not made in the vacuum of what was best for me. Or what would make my happy. Sometimes I was thinking, this is what you’re supposed to do. This is what will make my parents proud and happy. This is what will not hurt so and so’s feelings. This is the “responsible” course of action. ‘Til death do us part.
I guess the world has to operate on some level of conformity and generally accepted principals or there would be complete chaos and unpredictability. However, based upon the level of overall dissatisfaction and unhappiness by the majority of the U.S. population (if they were willing to admit it), perhaps the black and whiteness of how one should live and conduct their own lives based on some generally accepted ideas is dead wrong.
I am sure you have noticed that when you are in school everyone seems more the same than different to you based upon perception. Most kids are mostly the same rather than different. If you will remember the ones that were different stuck out like a sore thumb and, unfortunately, suffered the consequences of their uniqueness. We lived in the same towns and went through the same education. We had the same or similar opportunities for the most part. At the very least, if we weren’t all the same we all fell into some clique or group and there were not too many different ones.
Now that you are older differences are more apparent, but not that dramatic. However the feeling of separateness seems bigger. Why is that? I believe part of it is that the groups or cliques still exist and to some degree are accentuated. Perhaps this differentiation is due to our minds preoccupation with labeling, sorting and classifying things. Perhaps to a larger degree it is due to society’s habit of doing the very same thing?
We need to put everyone in a box. Things are easier to manage. People are easier to deal with if you put them in a group and create a template of who they are as a member of a group than dealing with them as unique individuals. Marketing to people and controlling their thinking is easier if you’ve classified them and more importantly got them to buy into their own classification.
There are a lot of classifications and sub-classes you can put a person into but if you have done a good enough job, the path their life takes and the choices they make are pretty predictable. Aren’t they?
So life works the way it works, the way it is supposed to and most of us aren’t satisfied as we near the end. What to do?
To some small degree, I am placing emphasis on finding out what I really believe, who I really am and what I want for me. I have played the game so far and played it well, but near the end, I find it all to be just a game.
Living life on my terms and thinking independently are my just rewards. I don’t plan on hurting anyone, flaunting any laws, etc., but going forward I am going to place my sanity, happiness and satisfaction as a personal priority. I am intent on viewing the world and living my life though the lens of my personal integrity. I am not going to follow the crowd for its own sake; it has to make sense to me and my wants and needs. I am going to place me within the parameters of my decision making first and sort it out from there.
Secondly, I plan on reinforcing the idea within my children and grandchildren that they are living their own lives. They are free to make their own well reasoned choices to live as they see fit. They don’t have to follow some preordained path or plan, but need to take time to reflect and meditate on their own plan that will take them where they want to go. That they need to stop and evaluate their plan every so often to make sure they still headed in the right direction and haven’t gotten mentally lazy, are mistakenly following the crowd and are off their path.
Who would you be if you didn’t listen to the world? Imagine it and pursue it.