What Do You Really Want?
A man or woman is not defined by any relationship (or lack thereof) in their life, just as I do not evaluate a person by the type of work they do or the income it may or may not produce. But society does judge people by such things among others, proof that repression and conformity are still quite ingrained in the American psyche.
Frankly, I think society still has much in common with the way it was in the 1950’s. Sure, some of the things men and women “want” may have changed, but the majority of people still sadly base their lives upon what others will think and expect of them. Conformity still rules their lives, and role playing determines decisions. Be it appeasement of relatives’ wishes, keeping up with the neighbors, seeking approval of peers in organizations and groups (being party line driven for example in politics) to the material possessions they select, the mentality to merge into the herd for security and approval still pervades this society.
Both men and women succumb to relinquishment of their own desires in order to get the approval of others. Be it nationalistic pride or simply making sure your clothing style and model of car is up “to par” with your neighbors and peers, many conform to others rather than pleasing themselves. From beliefs to possessions, they try to fit in with everyone else, lest someone consider them “different.” And they make sure they never become ostracized, so independent thought and expression thereof is kept hidden.
This absurd election is a prime example of such conformity. The political conventions, as always, were nothing more than parties. People who couldn’t be there joined in by rooting for their political candidate by watching at home, and attending rallies (like the large one held here in Colorado for Obama). Take a look at the eyes of some of his supporters; you see utter adoration. Of course, that’s what campaigns encourage: Jump on the bandwagon! Get on the winning team! Issues are meaningless. It is a mere beauty contest where substance matters not and image matters most. And people, for the most part, fall for it all. They “feel” good being part of the team with their bumperstickers, signs and t-shirts.
It appears rooting for a political candidate is about the same as rooting for their favorite sports team. Voting, for many, appears less an expression of freedom, and more an action of conformity to whatever group had the most influence on them growing up or the peers they find themselves around now.
Those who are weak seek to fit in with crowds. They need to feel as if they are a part of something greater than themselves. They also wish to avoid anyone accusing them of being different or not normal. They find it easiest to find a group to join and not makes waves. “Worth” is given to their lives when they look around them and hear a crowd chanting the same words. Independent thought is cast aside.
Politics is just one example, but a good one. A place where we see some people so afraid of not being considered “racist” that they support a candidate not for what he stands for but for the fact he is of color. Sounds like “reverse racism,” so to speak. I’ve recently heard several Obama supporters, for example, express great admiration and support for the man- but when simply asked why they are supporting their candidate, they fumbled for words. Ask them to state a few policies they particularly like, and they are speechless. Or, I’ve seen those who support a candidate, McCain for example, out of party loyalty – never mind that they will admit that they think said candidate is a poor reflection of what their political party used to stand for. To vote for someone based on their race, sex, or political party is to succumb to herd mentality.
Many people will support their political party’s ticket regardless of the candidate. For years, I’ve heard that voting party-line trumps voting the individual, perhaps for group thinkers, but never for me. As for the current election, since I believe either man, Obama or McCain, will do considerable evil as president, and I found no third party candidate worthy of my support (write-ins are not accepted on the Colorado ballot for the office of president), I did not cast a vote for president.
Few challenge the “rules” of conformity among groups. Not many want to be the one to say the emperor has no clothes. After all “You just don’t do that!” is an expression I’ve heard throughout my life. But then, I’ve never been a conformist and couldn’t care less of what others think, so when I’ve been told that, it only amuses. Challenging other’s sacred cows [their herd mentality – no pun intended ] by speaking the truth, exposing irrationality or lies, or simply not participating in an activity others put on a pedestal, is second nature to one not playing a role.
But conformity is a something many men and women often succumb to. I am thinking about women in particular because last night I again viewed the film Mona Lisa Smile.
Set in 1953, and on Wellesley College Campus, stories of several young and highly intelligent women illustrate the incredible pressures placed upon them to follow in their mother’s footsteps – putting aside any aspiration to use the education they’ve achieved toward development of a career. It is the arrival of a more free-spirited female art professor which causes the women to question the blind acceptance of the roles they’ve been programmed to play in life.
Interestingly, the professor herself is also caught in a reverse role playing, for rather than follow her heart, she decides (at the expense of a beautiful relationship with her man friend from California) to reject his proposal of marriage – not because she is uninterested – but because it doesn’t fit within the role she’s accepted as being a “free” woman. She destroys the good relationship she had in a stubborn determination not be like the young women around her. Instead of allowing herself to ask what would make her happy, she is most disturbed by the whole idea of marriage, thinking that it would somehow take something away from her. But what?
Could it be “freedom?”
Apparently, that is what she worries, allowing fear thoughts to control her rather than the strength of love which is bold and courageous. Ironically, though intelligent and in many areas of her life defying conformity, the professor permits the weakness of fear (afraid that allowing herself to be in a happy committed relationship would make her less free) to make her conform to a predetermined role – that of a “progressive” woman. And playing that role can lead her to make mistakes just as bad, harmful, and miserable as any role her students have accepted, as the disillusionment of a meaningless relationship later proves.
It’s not “freedom” to for a woman or man to play any role – be it a conventional or unconventional role – to the exclusion of who they really are.
Freedom would have meant an introspective look at what she wanted – that which would really make her happy. It would mean rejecting any preconceived idea of playing any role – even the role she had chosen years before which although contrary to most women – was nevertheless a role being played if it ever contrasted with her happiness and fulfillment. Role playing means you give up personal autonomy and personal responsibility. It necessitates conforming to some outside picture of what you “should” be versus who you truly are.
Freedom doesn’t mean challenging the roles others may expect of you or even what most accept; it means following your inner guidance to fulfill what will make you happy. It might be a decision others approve of or is expected of you, or one which differs. The key is, as an individual, is choosing for yourself.
In today’s society, women enjoy the same freedoms of choice and opportunities as men. (I believe this is largely so, and care not to debate it with feminists.) Thus, if a woman is still role-playing it’s not because they are forced so much to do so because of actual discrimination, but because they decide it’s the easiest path to take to avoid the social disapproval of others. I see such women role players in the world of politics, business, and homes. It’s not a matter of what and where they are, but the reason they are there and the behavior they exhibit. Are their actions coming from their heart, or merely actions meant to achieve approval of others? The answer usually becomes apparent over time.
Men, of course, aren’t immune to the same group thinking, and anytime they make choices (career, relationship, etc.) contrary to their inner wishes and guidance, they, too, bring unhappiness upon themselves. However, in my life, I’ve seen more men who seem to be independent in their thinking, than women.
Politically, 87 women serve in a Congress of 535. The first female Congresswomen was Jeanette Rankin elected in 1916 and again in 1940, a woman who hunted and could take the great outdoors in winter, while at the same time being a good cook as well as seamstress. She led a most active life of among other political achievements (accomplishments regardless of one’s political disagreement or not with) including: voting against America’s entry into WWI and WWII, lobbied for the Sheppard-Towner Act, founding VP of the American Civil Liberties Union, founding member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom,became field secretary of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, spoke against the Korean War, and in 1968 led more than 5,000 women in a march on the Capitol in protest of the Vietnam War (she was 87 years old).
Her work defies public sentiment of those times of what a woman “should do.” Her example proves that the internal elements needed for a woman to “step to the music” she hears is not predicated upon societal approval. It requires strength of character, in short – it takes courage – courage to simply be who you are – not what anyone else on earth expects you to be. If you want to live a life of freedom, you do it, and you fight anyone or any seeming societal barrier standing in the way of the pursuit of your dreams.
Decisions pertaining to one’s work, avocations or relationships are far too important to allow other’s expectations to do the choosing.
One of the most touching scenes in the film Mona Lisa Smile is when one of the highly intelligent young women tells the art professor that by choosing to marry (rather than going to Yale to which she’s been accepted) she is indeed exercising her freewill – for it is the choice she is making which will truly make her happy – it’s what she wants to do. It is a powerful scene as the professor must examine her own weakness of pushing the role she approves of upon another. Likewise, other students determine that following their parent’s will for their lives of marriage is not the right choice for them, but moving to the city, getting an apartment and making their own way. The key to happiness, as the film illustrates, is having the courage to examine oneself and what one really wants to do – not ever doing any action simply to please another’s expectations.
Sadly, I’ve actually met women who are apologetic about being “only” a mother. I am appalled at such talk, but have found it common when I meet others. Here they are doing something requiring complete dedication and devotion, and they speak as if it is “less” than a woman who is pursuing a career and working “out of home.” Likewise, I’ve met women who are so proud of defying conventional female roles that they actually speak apologetically about going into the kitchen when they discover they liked cooking a particular food. Crazy as it sounds, I have heard women speak that way…apologizing for finding cooking enjoyable. This is something I have met several times, and am perplexed at the mindset of apologizing for simply doing that which pleased them.
Life is meant to be lived. Playing any role, rather than being, is easy…but choosing to be who you are, to believe what you feel is true, to do what is right for you, may be hard at times, but it is gratifying. To let your life reflect your deepest desires, to pursue dreams, to believe and base your decisions on that which resonates with you, is freedom.
Living a life of freedom is living a life in truth.
Courage to be exactly who you are, with a smile on your face, and without regard to what anyone else in the world thinks- not your relatives, friends, peers, classmates, not anyone – is living the freedom within you. Frankly, deep inside, I think that’s what most men and women want – a life of freedom. And they can have it…with just a little courage.