Saturday, June 22, 2013

Rousseau: Perpetual restraint vs. Honest commitment

People seem to become more and more homogeneous as time goes on. Think of the rapid spread of galaxy print. Quickly galaxy went from a few instances of NASA photoshopping, to a DIY trend, and on to widespread commercial products. Maybe it's the success of corporations managing to sell us all the same product in a million different ways. Maybe it's the process of information becoming more quickly and widely available.

Even in the 18th century process of people trying to fall into a mold was happening. Rousseau writes in Discourses on the Arts and Sciences on the prevalence of modern manners.

Read more for a quote of his ideas and my thoughts on individuality despite outside pressure.

The Quote

"In our day, now that more subtle study and a more refined taste have reduced the art of pleasing to a system, there prevails in modern manners a servile and deceptive conformity; so that one would think every mind had been cast in the same mould. Politeness requires this thing; decorum that; ceremony has it s forms, and fashion its laws, and these we must always follow, never the promptings of our own nature.

We no longer dare seem what we really are, but lie under a perpetual restraint; in the meantime the herd of men, which we call society, all act under the same circumstances exactly alike, unless very particular and powerful motives prevent them. Thus we never know with whom we have to deal; and even to know our friends we must wait for some critical and pressing occaison; that is, till it is too late; for it is on those very occasions that such knowledge is of use to us."

from Rousseau, A Discourse on the Arts and Sciences, The First Part

Homogenization by Choice

What is certain is that the homogenization make individuality more difficult. It's hard to be your unique self when everyone else seems to have poured themselves into a single cast. I remember in high school when everyone wore Abercrombie and Fitch, capped sleeves and color scheme down to a precise formula. Now, the uniform is more subtle and encroaches on behavior.

There prevails in modern manners a servile and deceptive conformity

Apparently, it's absolutely not okay to not have a plan for after graduation as a freshman nor is it alright to purchase your brass rat after graduation, even if these decisions are based on your finances. If you've ever worn a costume on the T, the adult uniform is revealed by its absence. The conformity is deceptive in how everyone seems to easily fall into it, willingly. But it's there.

So how do you break out of the mold that's been made invisible by ubiquity?
How does one stand up for their individuality while still being presentable for interviews?

Unique Self

Part of embracing the everyday is embracing who you are. Get in touch with what you want then work to pursue that. The persistence to follow your dream will also show your value as an individual amongst so many identical replicates. Get in touch with the powerful motives that will give you strength to be yourself. Once you have a goal, pursue it regardless of decorum. If you want to be more fashionable, try out new coordinates regardless of what dullards warn about changing your style. Reach out to communities that pursue the similar styles; don't be afraid of being the first person to speak.

Valuable Friends

Let go of friends that don't stand by you. Friends who haven't stayed with you aren't guaranteed friends. Don't go out creating a crisis. Do pay attention to who comforts you, even in the small things. Trust me: those people will also show up when you truly need it.

Thus we never know with whom we have to deal; and even to know our friends we must wait for some critical and pressing occaison; that is, till it is too late; for it is on those very occasions that such knowledge is of use to us.

People who share your goal will make useful allies and even better friends; you know they will stay strong beside you because they too have gone through the difficulty of breaking out of the mediocre. Most likely, they'll be far more welcoming and warm as you discuss something exciting you both love than those bound by polite conversation about the weather.

Reading Rousseau on this subject gave me confidence and I hope that it can give you confidence too. Being yourself can give you a lot of insight on the true friends in your life. Don't worry about people that are uncomfortable with you embracing yourself. Be open and honest with your advice. The true friends are the people that stick around and care while others ignore or try to disparage you.