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The Community Ideal and The Destruction of the Individual

Since the end of my high school life is rapidly approaching, I have been doing some research on colleges recently. I have done a couple college visits, just to get a feel of what the schools are like. I sign up online, and come into the presentation room, where I sit with many other curious applicants who all want to learn more about the college as well. Some energetic student or admissions officer gives a presentation, where they tell us what the school is all about, and what the process of applying might be like. Those in attendance also get little booklets, which recap some of the information that was discussed during the presentation.

Just the other day, I was sitting in a presentation room, listening to an admissions officer talk about essays and what kind of traits they are looking for in applicants, etc… I was half listening and half flipping through and examining the pictures in the booklet. I noticed a common theme in these images as I have in previous college booklets that I have seen. There seems to be a much greater number of group photos than photos of individuals. Colleges do this in order to promote the idea of the “community”, where everybody belongs and everybody fits in. But is being part of a community always such a good ideal to promote to young people?

I believe that the community ideal is promoted because people are pack animals, and so people feel safer when they are reassured that they are going to be in an educational environment where they are also part of a pack. Colleges like to show that people are very welcoming by showing a lot of photos of groups of people all smiling and laughing together. However, there are many times where it is not a good idea to promote the community ideal. One of said situations is when the community ideal is promoted without also emphasizing individualism. If you tell people that there are a lot of great opportunities to make friends and join groups, then you are making people feel pressured into conforming to that ideal. While I understand that colleges are trying to make students feel that they would be welcomed by peers, these schools also seem to forget the fact that individual expression is important.

One thing that I have heard at more than one college presentation is “we want you to join clubs and get involved”. However, they don’t seem to acknowledge that not everybody wants to be involved in these kinds of activities. And yet, the emphasis on this group ideal seems to normalize it to possible future students. I have not heard a single college presentation talk about how the school promotes the individual and independence.

I am an introvert who has never really enjoyed clubs or big group activities. While I like to spend time with friends, I don’t like feeling pressured into group activities that I don’t want to be a part of. If I had a choice, I would much rather go for a walk by myself than be part of a hiking club. And yet, many schools seem to disregard the introverts and assume that everybody should do activities in a group setting. This is a manifestation of the American “extroverted” ideal.

While there’s nothing wrong with promoting inclusion and the community life, this is done by some colleges in such a way that the individual is forgotten. The person who would rather do something on their own is told that they should become involved in many group activities and clubs, just so they can be “part of something” and feel like they are doing what everyone else is doing. In the process, we forget that some of the most remarkable accomplishments are achieved when someone is working alone. Any place that promotes learning and growth should acknowledge that everybody works best in different situations, and try to promote that. Instead of simply encouraging people to be involved in big group activities, why not show the opportunities for individual growth as well? Why not also express that it’s okay if you do not want to be involved in this kind of activity?

While this issue may seem insignificant in the long run, it is just another example of how the “group ideal” is promoted in young people. Parents always talk about how young people make bad decisions in groups, and how they shouldn’t conform to the group mindset. Yet, we show kids these kinds of images and tell them that they should get involved in group activities and clubs, no matter what. This only serves to make people feel like there’s only one right way to do things, and that’s the group way. If we want our kids to make their own decisions and stay true to themselves, we need to stop making them feel like they have to be part of a community. We need to stop making introverts feel guilty that they’re not in a big social group. We need promote individualism to a degree that people don’t feel like there’s something wrong with them if they want to be alone. The older generations often complain about peer influence, and yet they only help to cause the problem by forcing kids to go to big social events and telling them they need to do what everybody else is doing. By teaching kids that this is normal, individualism is being destroyed and replaced with guilt and a feeling that there is something wrong with you if you don’t perfectly fit in. Guess what? There’s really not!

It’s not the fault of anybody in particular. I think that a lot of the time, this idea is very subconscious, so we may be promoting it without being entirely aware of it. But if we all pay attention to how the extroverted ideal is pushed on the younger generation, then we can start to promote the individualism that many feel we are lacking in our culture.

Turning Negative Feelings into Creativity

Just the other day, I was looking through one my elementary school yearbooks. I saw photos of a tiny me, standing with a bunch of people that I just don’t talk to anymore.   In fact, I don’t think I’ve talked to any of them in six years. When I look at them in the yearbook, I think about my birthday party sleepovers when I was in 3rd and 4th grade, where we would all eat cake and watch movies. I tried to think about more fun times we had together, but most of what I can seem to remember is the drama. I remember all the kids in elementary school excluding each other, including all of the times I have excluded someone from my own games.

The funny thing is that at the time, all these events were a huge part of my life, and I was really traumatized by them. But when I look back of them, they seem a little… well… stupid. Being mad about a game of dogs at recess? What does that do for me?

I think everybody has these events in their lives. The drama that seems ridiculous in retrospect, but was really upsetting to you at the time. Sometimes, all that you can remember about a certain event or day is the negative aspects of it. What is someone supposed to do with negative feelings? Well, you can use it to your advantage.

A lot of life isn’t about reality, but it’s about how we perceive reality. Perception is, in many ways, the foundation of our world. So, why not view every setback as a source of inspiration, rather than only being a setback? Use your emotions to achieve greatness! When something happens to you that is upsetting, try to channel your feelings into whatever form of expression is the most comfortable for you. Not only will you be creating, but you will also be also be helping to heal yourself by expressing your emotions.

Let’s say you bumped into an ex-friend in town, and they were very rude to you. You may know that this was just a couple seconds of your life, but the event really upset you. You could type up a short story about what happened between you and your former friend, or you could draw or paint something to express how you’re feeling. If you do not particularly enjoy creative writing or drawing, then you could write a diary entry or write a letter to someone, expressing how you are feeling. Either way, you will have created something from your struggles, and this is something that can be preserved forever. Even though the thing that you are upset about may seem insignificant and stupid, it is not stupid if it is causing you emotional turmoil.

So, use it! Take advantage of feelings, and harness them into productivity, no matter how much or how little. Even if you think that whatever you are creating is ridiculous, the point is to just get it down and let your feelings out. If you think it’s terrible, you don’t have to show it to anybody. But in the end, you will have expressed yourself in a healthy way, and you never know! Maybe whatever you have created will inspire you do expand on that idea in the future.

So next time you are made to feel lesser by others, get to work, and remember that you don’t have to give them your autograph when you are famous.

-Me

Being Okay With Yourself

Recently, one of my classes went on a walk during our final class period, and I noticed something immediately off the bat. The minute the whole class began walking to our destination, people formed into distinct social groups without thinking. It is interesting to me how automatically these kinds of things happen, and how people don’t even realize it, because it’s so subconscious.

I was walking on my own, while staying close to the other groups nearby. I didn’t really have many people I was close to in that class, so I just decided to do my own thing and try to enjoy the walk on my own. But the whole time we were walking, I felt this feeling of guilt inside me that I didn’t really understand. Maybe it was a feeling of failure? I tried to ignore it as best as I could and enjoy the walk.

During the course of the walk, I began to think that maybe the feeling of guilt and failure came from me thinking that there is something wrong with being alone. On some level, I felt like a failure because I didn’t have a close friend in that class. Although I consciously told myself that there was nothing wrong with being alone, something deep inside me just didn’t believe it. And this trip was making me realize that.

The entire mood of this walk had now been tainted with the thought that there was something wrong with me staying by myself. That’s when I realized that the problem isn’t that I’m by myself, but that I’m not entirely okay with myself.

I believe that the media has given young people this model of the ideal teenage experience, which is partly responsible for this problem. This experience portrays the “normal” teenager as a beautiful person who has a huge group of friends, where everybody in the friend group is equal and gets along pretty well. Teenagers are fed this through young adult TV shows and movies (‘Victorious’ is one example of this kind of social group on TV). Rarely do you see a young adult show about a character who is always doing things on their own, or who has to worry about social situations. This is because they always have their friends to back them up, and they do everything together. Everything.

This makes teenagers feel like it’s not okay for them to be by themselves, because being in a group environment is what’s ‘cool’ or ‘right’. They are taught that that is what’s normal, and we come to think that there is something weird or to be pitied about someone who is alone. I was one of the victims of this untrue message, among many others.

While walking back to school with the rest of my class, I realized that there is nothing wrong with someone wanting to do something on their own. Everybody is an individual, and there is no right or wrong way to live your life, no matter what you may be made to believe. If you’re happy being who you are, that’s what really matters! If somebody is made to feel guilty because they don’t conform to an unrealistic societal ideal, the problem is with the society, not the individual. Being okay with one’s self is one of the greatest skills someone can have in life. Friendships break and relationships fall apart all the time, but the one person that will always be there for you is yourself.

So while cooperation and spending time with others are both important, don’t forget to spend time with yourself as well.

-G.I. Kew

Social Exclusion – The Psychology Behind It (Opinion)

So, I thought I would share something that I have been thinking about recently. I have thought about this in the past, but it came back into my mind because of a school trip that I went on recently.

The trip itself wasn’t bad at all, in terms of location. I do think that a lot of people would have liked it more if we had the option of traveling around on our own or with who we wanted to instead of everyone being assigned a group. The one good thing about this, however, is that it allowed me to observe a lot of group dynamics. The majority of people seemed happy and were having fun, but the prominent teenage undertones of cliquey-ness and exclusion were still present. This got me wondering, what is it that makes people want to exclude each other? (This is all assuming that the exclusionary behavior in question occurs for some deeper reason, which is not always true. Sometimes people exclude because they just don’t like someone and don’t know how to deal with it. Also, forgive any spelling errors, I’m only half-awake right now).

I think that exclusionary behavior is an ego boost for the person who is carrying out the behavior. There is some kind of power that people feel when they have the ability to exclude somebody. I think it makes them feel superior, as they recognize that not everybody has a person to exclude. Yet, they have the “privilege” of being able to exclude someone from a group, which they tie in to their personal worth. I’ve noticed the same thing happens with group projects. Sometimes, people will exclude someone from joining a group project with the justification that there would be too many people even the group, even if this is not true. They say this with a sense of pride, almost as though they are very satisfied in themselves that they are of a well enough social standing to tell someone they can’t be in an exclusive group.

People just don’t think about the consequences. Perhaps they don’t realize how much their actions might hurt others. Our brains are still developing through adolescence. Sometimes, we don’t really think about how our actions may affect someone, or how they may hurt them. You can exclude someone and not be aware of the extent to which that can affect an individual person. Some people are really bothered by it and some people couldn’t care less, but the adolescent brain is still in development, and so an individual may not be able to perceive that somebody else may be more affected by it than they might be.

On the other hand, they might be doing it because they know it will hurt you. Sometimes I get the sense that people do exclusionary things so that they can make the other person suffer, or they do it in an attempt to make the other person feel the consequences. They use it as a form of punishment, kind of like putting a child on time out. If they are mad or frustrated with you, they may see this as a way of alerting you to the fact that something is wrong. It is an indirect way to get a message across or let somebody know that you are upset, but we all do it sometimes, whether we are consciously aware of it or not. I tend to think that girls have a pretty keen understanding of social subtleties. If they know anything about social groups, they would know how painful it feels to be on the outskirts of a group. They may just be attempting to hurt you as a form of punishment.

They’re overcompensating. Sometimes people do things as a form of overcompensating for some experience they have had in their own life. Perhaps somebody who frequently excludes others is doing so because they were once the victim of social alienation, and they were most likely excluded in the exact same way. Now that they feel they are in a position of power, they can seize it and use it to make up for everything that they felt they have been missing out on. If somebody has the ability to try to take power over a situation, they will do it in any way they know possible. For a lot of young girls, the way they know how to do this is through playing social games.

They are attempting to shift the power dynamic in the relationship (this one is more about why people may act distant on purpose). This kind of ties in with the last one, and is all about control. I think about this a lot because I experience it a lot in my life, and I know other people have too. Sometimes, when things are awkward with someone or when two people are keeping each other at arm’s length, both parties may attempt to gain power in the relationship. Since young people are growing up in the internet/social media age, I see this done through digital communication. How it works is: person 1 will reach out to person 2, and person 2 will take forever to respond to their text. Then, they will send a really disinterested response, and person 1 will leave them on read or never answer, etc… By sounding disinterested or leaving someone on read, you are trying to get them to reach out to you first. It is kind of an unspoken rule that you are the one who does not have power when you text somebody first. Sometimes people act disinterested because they really are disinterested, but this scenario assumes that the person in question is acting this way on purpose in order to play games.

By acting distant with the intent of increasing your perceived worth, you are trying to make someone reach out to you so that you can feel as if you are the one with the power, as they are “coming to you”. I think the same thing goes for social exclusion. By ignoring someone or attempting to cast them out of a group that you are in, you are attempting to make it seem like you have other options and you aren’t reliant on them. In the mind of the excluder, they may think that this will make the outcast individual want them even more. Yeah, it does sound pretty dumb. But a lot of people do it, believe it or not!

These are just a couple thoughts I have been having recently. Social exclusion happens all the time and doesn’t really go away, but it is interesting to try to understand why some people do it. Thank you for reading, and have a nice rest of your day.

-G.I. Kew

Group Work

Hey guys!

I’m not the biggest fan of group work. I mean, I’m pretty socially awkward and reserved around most people. Also, I usually feel like I can do something faster if I do it by myself. That’s not always true, but I say it because I’m stubborn and I like to do things my own way. Anyways, I’m one of those people where I die a little inside every time the teacher says the words “group work”. It’s kind of like someone took a tiny little knife and stabbed me with it. Dramatic, right? Well it feels that way inside, like I’m cringing internally. And the funny thing is, I feel like my dread of group work is ridiculous. I’m almost sure it is. But it makes me… nervousIt makes me feel bad about myself.

My friends aren’t in many of my classes this year, and the classes that I do have friends in don’t involve any group work. The opposite is true for the classes that do involve a lot of group work, particularly science. We always do labs in that class, and we have to pick our own lab group. The minute I first hear about a lab, even if it’s a week in advance, I’ll start to get nervous. I won’t be able to stop thinking about it. It will be the only thing that crosses through my mind for days, simply because I’m so nervous about the lab groups. I don’t know what’s gonna happen and that really scares me. Will I be the only person without a group? I get this worried scenario that plays through my head, where everybody has a group except for me, and I suddenly realize what a loser I have always been. I would have to go up to the teacher and ask to be inserted awkwardly into a group. I don’t know why, but that thought always scares me.

On the day of the lab, I enter the classroom with my heart racing and my hands a little sweaty. When the teacher says “pick your groups” I feel my heart pound heavier than before. I’ve done a lot of things that people have called “courageous”. I’ve asked boys out before and told them I liked them/thought they were cute to their face, and I’ve stood up to bad teachers. Why is it these little things that make me so nervous?

I always find a group, and I always get out alive. But I can never seem to get that thought into my head. I know it doesn’t matter, but these little things are what make me the most nervous that I have ever felt. During the lab, I try to participate in the group and while I’m not doing that, I just stand there quietly, because I’m awkward and shy and I don’t know what to say (rip).

Thanks for reading, and feel free to share anything that’s on your mind anytime. Hope you all have a happy and nice weekend!

-Yours Truly