How Far Would You Go to Fit In?
One of my favorite quotes of all time is:
“The culture we have does not make people feel good about themselves. And you have to be strong enough to say, if the culture doesn’t work, don’t buy it. Create your own.”
This is a quote by a man named Morrie Schwartz, a retired college professor who taught great lessons right up until his death. He became recognized by offering candid, heartfelt insight into many of the philosophical questions that so many of us ask ourselves (or should be asking ourselves) about life, work, community, relationships, aging, and death. And he offered all of this insight from a unique perspective.
Most importantly he offered it with love for the world. The reason I like this quote so much is because it gives me the confidence and the motivation to follow my own star. It instills in me the belief that following along with society is not always the best thing to do. As long as the path you chose includes proper values and beliefs we should each follow our own course. We are subject to the same outside culture as our neighbors, but we also have the choice to accept this as reality, or to create our own.
It is such a simple quote, but it can provoke an abundance of comments and stories. This comment can be applied to the proverbial Rat Race that is talked about so often.
We are cultured to believe that following the path of finishing school, getting a job, getting married, buying a house, having children, etc, is the way that life should be lived in order to end up as a success.
What Morrie is saying is that just because other people are doing it, does not necessarily make it right for you. We have to create our own definition of success and live our life in pursuit of this goal.
Your definition of success may be different from what society deems it to be, but that should not deter you from believing in your definition. The Rat Race is a great playing field for those who truly want to be involved in the game of Corporate America, but it might be the wrong path to take if you are following a different goal.
The problem, however, lies in the fact that this traditional culture is everywhere, and you are smacked in the face with it everyday. The reason Morrie says you have to be strong enough is because in order to remain on your own path, you have to be incredibly strong to survive the winds that are trying to blow you onto the path that the rest of society is following.
We are brought up to believe that to make it in life, we have to follow along with what other people are doing. When it comes to certain things like obeying the law or other basic human activities, we must follow along or our world would be in total chaos. But, there are considerable situations in life where straying from what everyone else is doing can be good thing, especially if it allows you to follow your inner beliefs.
Consider the following scenarios:
Scenario #1: A man walks into a doctor’s office and as he looks up he notices that everyone is in their underwear. There are people reading magazines, people drinking coffee, and people talking to each other, all in their underwear. He finds this very strange, but then figures that there must be something to it, so he too takes off his pants and sits down in his underwear.
Scenario #2: A woman is waiting for an elevator in an office building. As the elevator arrives and opens, she walks in and notices that everyone in it is standing facing the back of the elevator. This is different then what she is used to, but as she walks in, she also faces the back of the elevator as the rest of the people are.
Now you may think I am making up some pretty obvious examples to prove the point that people in society will go along with what others are doing, no matter how crazy it may appear. The truth of the matter is that these were both actual scenarios from Allen Funt’s 1960’s TV show Candid Camera.
When I was a kid and wanted to do something that my friends were doing, but wasn’t approved by my Mom, she would often say “If your friends all wanted to jump off a bridge, would you want to jump too?” Well, after hearing about these examples from Candid Camera and the crazy things people will do in order to fit in, I finally see where she was coming from. She was telling me to be an individual. I realize now how great that advice really was.