Have you ever asked yourself why there are so many food shots on Instagram? How about selfies? Why do people use LinkedIn? Or Facebook? And why are some people proud they don’t use social media at all?
But questions aren’t limited to social media.
Why do so many introverts believe they’re restricted in their social contact? What makes some people build and promote a personal brand? How come others think self-promotion is narcissistic? What drives people to identify with particular political parties? What keeps others independent?
We could go on. Or we could just say different strokes for different folks.
Yet, I think there’s something more fundamental that we need to consider if we truly want to have meaningful and fulfilling lives. Lives in which we’re able to entertain challenging ideas, see with our own eyes, and act in ways that allow us to make a difference. In other words, we need to pay attention if we want to avoid drifting through life only to end up with regrets. [Tweet this]
Culture: Powerful and Pervasive
While it’s not something we generally notice, the cultural contexts we operate in shape our beliefs, choices, relationships, and the overall quality of our careers and lives. As well, culture drives the direction of technology, economics, organizations, entertainment, politics, and other influences in our lives. We’re immersed it, but don’t generally recognize it.
In short, we can be as blind to culture as fish are to water. [Tweet this]
Yet, cultural blindness can be dangerous. It’s especially risky if it traps us in a self-absorbed belief system that leaves little room for critical thinking about the world around us. Put differently, that blindness can contribute to a sense of rightness that leads to a delusional arrogance. A point made by David Foster Wallace in his 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College:
“Here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe; the realest, most vivid and important person in existence.”
He goes on to say:
“Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute center of. The world as you experience it is there in front of you or behind you, to the left or right of you, on your TV or your monitor. And so on. Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.”
I would add to this your social circles. Because what you believe is heavily influenced by the beliefs of those you identify with. To some extent, this is a good thing, since shared interests and beliefs provide the social glue of relationships. Yet, at some point, there’s a risk of subscribing, without testing, to the ideas of the people you most like and most emulate. Without critical thinking, you put on a pair of cultural lenses that can keep you from seeing clearly. [Tweet this]
Believe Your Own Lying Eyes
When you do think and act according to your own values and talents, you’re most likely to achieve perspectives or model behaviors that can benefit others. In fact, most of us are comfortable sharing our original thinking and actions, especially if we believe others will accept what we have to offer. And our creativity often enriches our relationships.
Yet, we also tend to develop a sense of social taboos on specific kinds of speech and behaviors. There are many instances where you just know that having a different opinion or taking a different course of action puts you at odds with others. Wanting to be liked, as most of us do, can lead to fear of stepping outside the norm. So, we simply keep our mouth shut or curb our behavior.
Fear becomes even more intense when we face situations, ideas, or issues that may be emotionally charged. For example:
- Becoming uncomfortable leaving the office on time when others put in extra hours of face time.
- Saying we favor a particular candidate when we fear stating our reservations.
- Conforming to standards of political correctness no matter how contrived they seem.
- Accepting analysis from people who make claims to moral authority or truth, even as we force ourselves to ignore the inconsistencies in their arguments.
We have likely witnessed the discomfort people are subjected to when others act to shut them down. And so, we may decide that, in the long run, it’s better to go along to get along. Besides, who wants to go up against the delusional arrogance of others? [Tweet this]
Left unchecked, we can come to internalize a set of restraints that may have us questioning ourselves when we see through pretense. So, we come to admire the emperor’s new clothes. When we don’t, we develop a free-floating anxiety, and the feeling we’ve been betrayed by our own cheating heart. Worse, we may surrender to the harsh internal censor who asks, “Who are you gonna believe? Me or your own lying eyes?”
Eventually, failure to see and think for yourself can become your default setting. So, stop it! [Tweet this]
Freedom To Make A Difference
Okay, stopping it can be hard to do. Really hard. After all, it’s how the real world operates. Or so you think. As Wallace pointed out:
“…the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self.”
The problem, of course, is you remain trapped. You give up your freedom. You give up the capacity to make a difference. You sacrifice meaning, fulfillment, and true happiness. You eventually sleepwalk through life without being fully charged.
Better, Wallace says, is to pay attention:
“The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.”
In other words, meaning, fulfillment, and your ultimate happiness and success are grounded in clarity of purpose and service. But you need to see that for yourself.