Thursday, December 22, 2011

Individuals and society

Probably one of the biggest traps in previous parts of my life is worrying about what other people might think of me. Sounds silly in some ways, but but have you ever stopped to think about how much of our lives is influenced by the way we want people to see us. How much of what we say is based more on social acceptability than expressing whatever it is we would like to say, how often do we find ourselves doing things we would prefer not to do, pushing aside the things that really matter to us?

Social cohesion is mainly based upon consensus and mutual cooperation. Which means that nobody gets to do his/her own thing all of the time and ignore the wishes of others. Part of being an effective member of a social group is occasionally tempering one's own wishes and trying to dove-tail these into the necessities of a social existance. Anybody who does whatever he/she likes is usually very quickly sidelined in daily life, because if people can't count on you, you run the risk of being ostricised and ignored at a certain point. A society doesn't have much use for totally selfish people, at some point there needs to be some point of meaningful contact between its members from which all stand to gain.

On the other hand though, trying to become as acceptable as possible in a social setting by ignoring your own wishes, and pandering to popular interest whilst putting your own needs aside, leaves you feeling used and abused, and wondering what the hell is going on. It's a set-up for feeling totally miserable, given enough time. Nobody wins, you feel frustrated and compromised, and others view you as a pushover and a wimp because they know that you will never, ever say "No". Once again, even though conservative forces in society demand otherwise, the push towards total conformity with too many people saying and doing the same thing out of fear of what others might think, is a recipe for disaster since any forms of originality,creativity or renewal are pushed aside as irrelevant, undesireable or unnecessary.

One of the things I fear is not being taught enough in schools, and in society in general, is that assertivity and self-promotion is important and very necessary for a sense of self worth. We live in a society of consumerist individualism, where everybody seems to be following each other in fashions, trends and memes, where real individuals who assertively promote their own points of view are few and far between. Such individuals are initially viewed with suspicion, even hostility occasionally and kept at a safe distance until the merits/demerits of their standpoints have been assessed. Nevertheless, they serve an important function in the development and progress in society, questioning old values and defining new ones, pushing accepted boundaries to the limit and redefining modes of social interaction.

A society that can not or will not change will eventually die, stagnating in a gray cloud of sad mediocrity where innovation is stifled, creativity frowned upon and benefiting only those running the show. In contrast, a society which is in a state of extreme flux and revolution runs a great risk of falling apart since the social "glue" which keeps them together is dissolving at a faster rate than the population can deal with effectively, leaving the way open for opportunists and profiteurs to take advantage of the disrupted social situation. People are needed who can, at the same time, generate enough energy and insight to provide new insights to social existence and at the same time create enough confidence in a social setting to provide a stable framework in which to live.

Standing up for your own views in a clear, concise and articulate fashion forms one of the bases of a worthwhile and meaningful existence. Knowing what you want, expressing what you need, being realistic and not immediately accepting the inevitable conservative reactions is of vital importance for growth, not only in a personal sense but also in a way of benefit to society in general. No matter what happens, you are exquisitely important as an individual. You are not just part of a collective group, you have your own unique talents and possibilities and have the right to use these in whatever ways you find necessary to improve the society you live in. The world is yours, take it and make it an even better one.

Keep well...


  1. Mu understanding is that the personality is what we are perceived by others and our character is more of who we really are.

  2. Great article, I especially love the pictures.

    The picture about "we are all leaders" reminded me of an event that happened in a job orientation I had in the past.

    The instructor went around and asked us if we felt like we were a leaders, and then asked us to describe why we thought so. I was one of the last people to go. Everyone else said that they were a leader, and then on to describe some generic qualities as to why they could lead.

    Being kind of a smartass, and genuinely feeling that it was so, I said that I was "not a leader at all". He then went on and told me to simply say what qualities I might have if I were a leader.

    It was just a small little event, but the fact that I was the only person to say that I wasn't a leader, when statistically, there were probably many other non-leaders in that group, meant that I very likely actually was a leader.

    How strange these things work!

    Anyhow, I'm not much of a conformist. I suppose I used to try to do that, but I found it much more satisfying just to do my own thing. Being accepted has precious little to do with my decision-making process.

    I'd love to hear anything else you have regarding this topic - it's so fascinating to me!

  3. Hi Justin, thanks for dropping by. I'd broadly tend to agree with you here, although I feel that it's not as binary as we might suppose. Both personality and character are shaped through interactions with one's environment, although as you rightly state, the one is more internally directed and the other more externally.

    Next to this there are also the innate characteristics an individual carries with him-/herself, part of the genetic makeup but also ingrained from the very beginnings of childhood.


    Thanks for your input Fred. I like your analogy because you rightly point out that a leader need not be someone who leads in a direct sense, but who can point the way to something worthwhile by example or being contrary to the accepted modes of behaviour.

    Sometimes I wonder why people are so obsessed with the leadership thing, I've come to believe that it is more the obsession with the power that leadership brings with it than that it relies on the innate qualities of the person involved. We've seen too many people rising to places of leadership who have dysfunctional and even pathological people skills, whilst others quietly lead by example and require no acclaim or self-gratification in any way.

    I'm with the non-conformists b.t.w. and there's nothing wrong with being a smart-ass, as long as one doesn't act so just for some self-profiling. We need more smart-asses and people willing to think and act critically. I'll be writing on that sometime soon because it's a topic which has been on my mind since my teenage years and which I've never really been able to reconcile with the nonsense of daily life.

  4. Cool man, love what you said about leadership. I think it has to do with power too. Looking forward to your thoughts.

  5. Quite often it appears that individuals lacking in the necessary skills manage to take on powerful roles through manipulation and coercion. Ambition is a dangerous tool in the hands of the greedy and impetuous.
    On the other hand, people who often don't have any identifiable leadership skills grow into the role as they gain the trust of their followers. Leadership by example is a much more beneficial way of exercising power, a population likes people practicing what they preach.