By Sara Scheler
Modern society values uniformity. Most people will agree that order, commonality and organization are attractive and desirable. If we walk into a cluttered store, we immediately notice the disarray. Traffic patterns are typically predictable and when they are out of sync, they cause stress, road rage and accidents. Fields are planted in neat rows, cars are directed into evenly-spaced parking spaces, people wait obediently in straight lines. Everything is standardized and systemized. Conventional schools are excellent at turning out a homogenized product. We standardize our education, our tests and our nation’s children. Millions of children get up every morning, go to school, learn the same basic facts, regurgitate them on test day and are shuffled along from one grade to the next regardless of their grasp of the material. Children grow up with extreme social pressure to be trendy and popular. They know exactly which clothes to wear, which toys to buy and which cars to drive in order to gain the respect of their peers and obtain good social status. We talk about peer pressure but rarely stop to think what it really means. In many cases, it is social suicide to go against the norm and there are very few messages in the media that encourage children to be unique. Everything from television to music to advertisements is designed to convince us that we need to eat, watch, wear, buy and do certain things in order to be accepted by our peers.
I typically avoid shopping malls, especially during the holidays, but I gave in last week. From the moment I entered the mall, I became acutely aware of our society’s unhealthy obsession with consumerism and uniformity. Everything was stereotypical and relentlessly cliché: the Christmas trees, the tinsel, the signs boasting early bird specials, the best holiday gifts and never-before-seen sale prices. Everything was oozing with holiday cheer, yet I only felt disappointment and disgust. The stores were filled with tacky, cheaply-made items that people go crazy for—things they will buy, maybe use and then forget about. There is nothing wrong with purchasing items that make you look good, smell nice or feel happy but it becomes a problem when it is a forced habit that millions of people engage in without stopping to question why.
What if we challenge this system? What if we value something different—individuality and originality. What if, instead of using shopping as our national pastime, we spend time with people we care about. What if we instead become obsessed with having meaningful conversations, exploring the world in which we live and learning new things. What if we produce instead of consume. We can all find things to cut back on, whether it is one less over-priced latte, one less trip to the mall or one less impulse buy. Instead of focusing on the things that are expected and assumed, we should be willing to branch out, try new things, express ourselves and be unique. We should frequently go outside of our comfort zones and grow as human beings.
This holiday season, I challenge you to find one thing that scares you—something you typically don’t do, something that will make a positive change—and do it every day for a week. Challenge the system. Lead, don’t follow. Be unique.