The challenge with being true to yourself in a society of low expectations
We live in a society of low (and often twisted) expectations. And sadly, in many respects, it’s only getting worse. In our increasingly smug culture, most of our societal expectations are setting us up for personal and professional failure. And, other than our general dissatisfaction with life, many of us struggle to know it because society is no longer emphasizing the importance of thinking, and much less of thinking for ourselves.
But what good is thinking if our thoughts are tied up in half-truths and untruths? In other words, if we’re blind, how do we see? Or if we’ve never seen, how do we know we’re blind?
Because although we’re frustrated and angry, we can’t seem to put our finger on exactly why we’re frustrated and angry. That is why we continue to double down on the very things that are causing so many of our problems. We know something is off, but we don’t know what that something is. And rather than taking the time to figure it out, we mostly behave irrationally. We throw tantrums, for example. We lash out. We kick and scream and even bite. We lose control and we don’t even know why we lose control. We just know that it feels good to hit something – anything, really. We’re hurting on the inside so we think we’re justified in hurting others on the outside. We’re lost. And, if we’re speaking truth to power, we’re not even sure we want to be found.
It would seem to me that we are misdiagnosing the problem similar to the practice of bloodletting. We think that by draining society of anything remotely resembling objective morality that we’re going to cure our emptiness and despair. Tragically, we’ve fallen into the societal trap of advocating that we would be free to live our lives to the fullest if we could just make morality relative, or at the very least subject to majority vote. If enough people say it’s okay, then – voilà – it’s OK! Fortunately, that’s not how this works. That’s how you get slavery and socialism, not lasting fulfillment and joy.
To be sure, morality isn’t the problem. In no uncertain terms, morality is the cure. It’s the lifeblood of any enduring civilization. Our understanding of right and wrong is what guides almost every decision we make. To get this part wrong – to call good evil and evil good – is to guarantee our eventual ruin.
We cannot, over an extended period of time, do wrong and feel right any more than we can do drugs and feel good for longer than the high lasts. And if we continue down the path of artificially inducing pleasurable feelings – of doing what’s easy instead of what’s right – eventually it is going to destroy our lives, not to mention society. So if we care at all about our well-being, personal or otherwise, we cannot be confused as to the importance and significance of right choosing. And on this point, society cannot be trusted. In fact, our current society is part of the problem.
Under the weight of morally illegitimate or low and dangerous societal expectations, not only does civility suffer (as we are currently witnessing), but we suffer individually. In fact, the challenge with being true to ourselves and of making a meaningful contribution is unnecessarily exacerbated; encouraging some individuals to find purpose in the wrong places or to wander aimlessly with no purpose at all.
Of course, that’s not to say there is no hope. However, it is to say that that to keep hope alive, we have to be able to think; to see clearly; to determine truth from error; and, ultimately, to make right choices. Otherwise, we’ll end up oblivious to the fact that we’re walking in darkness at noon-day.
In other words, our expectations may indeed be realized only to yield results we didn’t expect.