This is great in theory, but in practice, things are often very different. Although most people have a great deal of freedom, many don’t exercise it as much as they should.. or could.
When studying myself and the world around me, it seems there are two strong human tendencies that contribute to this. I find both to be unfortunate. They tend to stagnate lives, and generally make the world a worse place to live in.
1) We are limited by our background.
It is easy to become limited by our previous life experiences. And many of those life experiences were not fully under our control. We can’t control who our parents are, how they chose to raise us, the country we were raised in, the part of the country we were raised in, the family financial situation, the teachers we had at school, etc. But nevertheless, our past has a strong hold on our present, and often our future.
Here are a few examples:
Career. Many people follow a linear career path. They pick area of interest early on, get schooling, get a job, and then climb the ladder in that area. The early choice of an area to study greatly impacted the next few decades of life. What if they had picked something else? What if they had been exposed to more? Would they do something different? Should they have done something different?
Academia. University is supposed to be the land of free thought. Tenure means freedom. Why is it that everyone sticks to their field of training? And typically, it isn’t just a field: it is a subfield of a subfield of the field. They get a PhD in dynamic compilers, get tenure researching dynamic compilers, and then continue to work in dynamic compilers. Why is this? There is so much to explore. Things change quickly.
Religion. I was not raised with a religion. Besides my one year of Christianity, I have stayed non-religious. Many of my friends were raised Christian. Today, they are Christian. Some were raised Buddhist. And today, they are Buddhist. There is a pattern here.
Location. The world is a big place with various types of people, cultures, food, etc. Many people don’t take advantage of this. Growing up in Bay Area, I know many people who have barely left California. Some have barely left the Bay Area! It is like this almost everywhere. Small town folks tend to stay in their small towns. Many big city folk love their big city.
2) We are prejudiced against that which is different.
Our background puts us into a box. What about what is outside of that box? When encountering something new, we almost always get defensive and negative by default.
Again, a few examples:
Career. Engineers think that business folk are stupid douchebags. Business folk think that engineers are dorky code monkeys that exist to build out their ideas. Academics value their ivory tower and often look down on industry jobs. Industry people think academics are in one large delusional circle jerk with their heads stuck up their butts.
Academia. I lied. Industry folk think academics are in several large circle jerks, not just one. At least in computer engineering and science, there are several “hot” fields at any given time. It is easier to publish in an established “hot” field. It is also easier to get funding from what I understand. Outside of these “hot” circle jerks? Not so easy. (To be fair, you can publish weird stuff. I did in my PhD).
Religion: Those who are religious often believe they are right, and the others are wrong. Those without religion think all of them are wrong. This isn’t necessarily that bad, except for the animosity that can come from it. What kind of animosity? Wars.. lots of wars.
Location. Californians are liberal, hippy, tree-huggers. New Yorkers are asshole investment bankers. Everyone in Miami and LA is shallow. Small town folk have narrow minds. What else? Feel free to insert your favorite location-based stereotype here.
And the list goes on. Historically, white people had a difficult time with those of color in the US. Today straight people have a difficult time with gay people. We tend to not like that which is different.. and that is very unfortunate.
What to do.
Be aware of these tendencies. Help others be aware of them too.
Don’t let our past take a hold of us. Choose what your own personal future should be, and make it happen.
If you find yourself thinking or talking negatively about something different, stop yourself for a second. Do you really understand what you are talking about? Probably not.
So here is my memo to the world:
The world is your oyster. Recognize that box you are in. Step out of it. And show some respect. Thanks!
that was amazingly well said and enlightening.
Its great that you’re talking about taking a chance and coming out of the protective shell that we put ourselves in!! I am myself stuck in this stereotypical job I am expected to do as an outcome of my university degree and the choices i made considering the social norms of “what is the best for me”, but in that course I missed the most important part, “my opinion of what is the best for me(negating the pressure that society has directly/indirectly imposed on us)”. Now, I am in this job that pays me to support myself and my family to some extend and I am yet to take that leap of faith. Congratulations to you!!
Thanks for the kind comment. I hope you are find what works for you, whether it be at your current position, or on a different venture! Good luck!
Great post!. Soo true. Trying to get out of the background box 🙂
Thanks! Yup, I just stepped out of it, and find it to be a great place. Hope you find what works best for you!