My aim for this essay is to explore the tension between “thinking for one’s self” and “forced uniqueness.” More explicitly, I wander through the question of whether or not it is “right” to aim to be different?
On one hand, I struggle to accept absolute social determinism — a fancy psychological theory that attributes individual behavior to environments and social interactions (as opposed to other factors). Social determinism is the theory that social interactions and constructs alone determine individual behavior (as opposed to biological or objective factors). I like to believe, or at least convince myself, that I do have will power and that I do play a role — in fact a large and important role — in determining my own outcomes.
Smart people can debate the validity of self-efficacy. I choose, perhaps naively and somewhat cautiously, to accept the view of the empowered individual.
On the other hand, though, I recognize how challenging and nuanced “thinking for one’s self” can be. I subscribe to the idea that we, in the United States in the year 2018, are not only the “products of the five people we surround ourselves with,” but also the average of the things we consume. Everything impacts our conscious and subconscious thinking. The feeds we scroll through. The medium articles we scan. The podcasts we listen to. The streets we walk on. The ads we skip. Everything.
The nuance in this, and the interesting tension that I emphasize in this essay, is recognizing that it is not bad to be influenced. In fact, I would go a step further…it is not bad to be outright brainwashed.
I do not think it is bad to be passionately religious. I do not think it is bad to go all in on a company or a team or a relationship.
It is not bad to agree with social norms. It is only bad to blindly agree to social norms.
When written out, this, of course, sounds obvious. It sounds like this would be common sentiment…and I think most people would actually agree with this statement. But is this actually practiced? Or are people embarrassed to admit this?
Are all of the people interested in being “contrarian” too obsessed with being different?
Perhaps it is a fad of our times to “strive for differences.” What is wrong with being mainstream? What is wrong with accepting the status quo? What is wrong with being religious? Choosing the best team to root for?
I think the answer I come to is that there is indeed nothing wrong with conforming. There is though, something fundamentally wrong about blindly conforming.
And what do I mean by “blind conformation?”
I think of ‘blind conformation’ as what occurs when you give up on all other outlooks because you are content with the current environment. We stop searching for alternate perspectives, ideologies, and explanations because the “current model” works just fine.
The problem with this lens, though, is that reality is often an even more extreme case of complacency. In reality, what often happens is that we give up “on the search” EVEN WHEN we know things are bad. We know there are better outcomes out there…we may not have the tools to go get them…we may have big priorities on our plate…we may have big obstacles…but we know something is waiting that would make things better.
So why do we give up?
Of course, the answer must be different for everyone. I do not pretend to play the all-mighty role — knowing everyone’s answer.
Human instinct may be to give up as soon as possible. We find artificial, though rational excuses for not taking leaps of faith. We accept being brainwashed because it is more convenient…more available…far easier to digest.
The “norm” is generally the most widely available answer. It is the one you will find by talking to one other person. It is on the cover of magazines and all over medium. It is the one people will validate you for having.
The norm is not always bad as I have repeated.
But it is worth doubting. It is worth thinking for yourself (I think), if not just for the exercise. But, as I hope to conclude this essay with the thought, being different and challenging society is not a reason to be right.
You are not right just because you are different.
You have to be right AND different. Or just right.
Being different — thinking different is a by-product of new ideas. It is not an input. It is an output.
Originally published at Jordan Gonen.