Our human lives are extraordinary, complex, and truly wondrous things. I don’t just mean this in a biological sense either; the human mind, society, and community is really incredible when you stop and think about it.
But there are so many areas of our lives and so many different ways in which we complicate things! The lives we lead in the modern day are of a much higher standard of living than almost any time or civilization in the past, but the high-speed, large-scale, generally consumerist philosophy of American culture seems to have taught us to constantly want more than we need. The aggressive advertising in today’s world is a natural outcome of a huge corporate entity, which is again a natural outcome of a growing population and economy.
Many of us as Westerners have convinced ourselves that the key to happiness is to fill our lives with every good thing we can find. We want a good house, a good family, a good car, a good job, and of course, the good life we’ve convinced ourselves will come out of all this. But the bar keeps getting higher! Society keeps telling us that we don’t quite have everything we need to be truly happy, so many people have become convinced that once they get one more thing, they’ll be happy. The bar keeps being raised.
Why do we do it this way? Why not find simpler, easier goals for ourselves to achieve, rather than constantly striving to meet society’s ever-rising status quo? Our existence has become laden with all kinds of baggage, baggage about who we should be, what kind of life we should lead, what we should think, say, and do, even what clothes we wear and what food we eat! More importantly, a huge and hugely complex social structure of codes and laws has been formulated and is the basis for so many of the interactions we hold. Many talk to the poor as if they were the dirt under society’s feet, while anyone addressing the president would never dream of doing such a thing.
When you really stop and think about it, almost none of this is inherent in our being as humans. The idea proposed by Locke comes to mind here: When we’re born, each of us is a tabula rasa, a blank slate. Things are “written” and impressed on us from the very moment our mothers give birth to us, as our experiences and the environment around us shapes who we are through our whole lives. Now, I need to interject here by saying that I don’t think we’re born completely blank. People have their own natural preferences, and whether that’s biological, mental, or even somehow spiritual, I can’t claim to know. My point though, is that so much of our perception of the “self” has been passed down and dictated to us by past and present society that we’ve lost a lot of our ability to think outside of those boundaries.
We’re told from the beginning of life that there is a certain way society works and holds together, and that there are certain rules and guidelines of a stable, healthy society that must be followed. For example, many people “naturally” regard a beggar asking for money on the side of the road as a drug-ridden lowlife, someone who has thrown away their life on alcohol and bad decisions. On the other hand, most people would respect a doctor or lawyer implicitly, based solely on their profession. But while going to law or medical school might better equip someone to deal with legal or physiological problems, it does not change the inherent value of a person.
So here’s my challenge: Stop thinking of things in the ways you’ve been taught, or at least exclusively so. Challenge yourself to leave behind your preconceived notions of the world and especially of other people, and strive to lead a simpler, less presupposing life. And finally, make you the self you want to be. Don’t let other people and outside influences exclusively make you who you are. Allow them to challenge your perceptions and ideas, but make your decisions and your life for yourself. If we could all be free from the preconceived notions that have been passed down to us about the world, we could transform ourselves and society from the inside out.