Consider this part two of “Today’s Young Hot Things…” in which I return to the subject of the status quo. I want to understand the social pressure that brings such a vast majority of Americans to the middle, where lives led appear incredibly demographically similar. Marriage, house, kids. I challenge this path because as I watch more people head down it, the worse it looks. People don’t seem happy. People tell me they’re not happy. An “it is what it is” mentality (which Kate H. would rail against as entirely passive and lackadaisical) seems to prevail. Does living the status quo make people feel normal, that coveted look we’ve all longed for since way back? Or does it feel more like a hostage situation?The quest for normalcy is all about social pressure to appear a certain way. We apply pressure to each other, and we do it to ourselves. Arcade Fire’s most recent record (I already warned you music is my passion, so deal with the lyrics quote) captures the anxiety of this theme, asking, “I’m so confused, am I a normal person? You know, I can’t tell if I’m a normal person…I’ve never really ever met a normal person.” Being an outlier, a deviant, is uncomfortable and vulnerable. Safety in numbers, right? We stop being honest with ourselves and watch whichever group is acting out the status quo for notes on how to live (see an earlier discussion of this phenomenon here). This may work during adolescence, when we’re not fully formed, but it stops working once life starts to become more fixed. While living the status quo may reduce a significant amount of social anxiety, I believe for many it increases a sense of isolation and personal disintegration. One way of dealing with the dissonance is externalizing our locus of control (a psychology concept relating to personal responsibility), for an “it is what it is” mentality. Another mechanism is substance abuse. Cheating. Eating. Staying busy. Anything to ward off the hard questions, am I living the life I want, is this the right partner for me, was having kids the right decision? Questioning isn’t normal. Acceptance is.
I don’t believe the benefits of joining the crowd outweigh living the life that’s right for each of us (based on personal honesty), as we move along the lifespan. You’ll see me return to the importance of making and owning choices in life. A little thing called internal locus of control. If you’re not living inside yourself, how can you possibly understand that you’re the one steering your life? Looking for normal, and working to become it is not a formula for happiness. I want to understand the payoff of living the status quo, and what makes it so compelling. Because when I hear from people living it, it sure doesn’t sound like it’s working out well on a micro level. Or if it is, no one is talking about it to me. I hear sex is a problem, and money is a problem, and boredom, and sleep and time and weight too. Then I look at facebook, which tells me the kids are great, and the couple is in love, and the house is perfect and all activities are a total blast. Is all of this true at once? I have my doubts.
People, let’s start talking to each other about the status quo. If it sucks, and it’s hard and it doesn’t feel good, let’s open up about that. Surely our generation’s obsession with voyeurism and exhibitionism means we have more acceptance for personal honesty than those before us. Look at how many likes and supportive comments people get when they tell a hard truth on social media. Sure, there will always be trolls, and they are working to reinforce the status quo, to frighten us into submission. Fuck them. You show us what’s normal. Hint: almost all of it is.