The Big Picture: Finding your “individual voice”

By: Annie Sragner, Assistant Arts and Life Editor

Every single day, every step we take is governed by unspoken social rules. Public life outside the privacy of the home occurs under the microscope of civility. The moment you step outside, you step out of “The Me World” and into “The Real World.”

Rules of The Real World are everywhere from the streets, to the office to school. For example, look at restaurants. They operate in complete compliance with social norms. Most restaurants are basically one big room with a bunch of tables in it. When you walk into a restaurant, the “Restaurant Rules” kick in, and you can probably predict what your experience will be like. There’s usually no yelling or loud talk between other tables; you keep your eyes level and your hands on the table.  You tip your server at the end of the meal the customary 20 percent, and you walk out happy.  Then the next set of rules shows up, and so on.

Campus is another place loaded with rules and other social cues. I realize some of these rules are necessary to avoid chaos, but walking from building to building, we exhibit an anthill mentality where we keep to the right and go about our own way without causing any major inconveniences. Fairly basic, but when you see someone who has broken out of this mold in a bold way, it catches your attention.

One of my favorite bands, The Strokes, has a lyric that goes, “Oh everybody plays the game, and if you don’t you’re called insane.” Individuals who rebel or step around the rules are deemed “insane,” “mad,” or even worse, “not cool.”

Consider how much of your everyday behavior is spent in obedience to these standards. How much of your public persona is based on your authentic urges? In essence, who is your real self and what differentiates you from the others?

We live in a society where a college degree and money are usually needed to live comfortably. The nature vs. nurture dichotomy makes it difficult to discern how much of who we are is based on our real personalities as opposed to the outer ones. We are mostly a product of our external environment.

Look around you and notice what real life means. Is it routine where we ignore strangers on the street, or does true living mean abandoning how we’re expected to perform in life? No matter how different we may try to be, we are still slaves to the traditional lifestyle that we collectively agree on.

From this perspective, tradition and customs seem arbitrary. Our culture has descended from the beliefs of men who died hundreds of years ago. The world values civilization and a market mentality without room for nonconformity.

Try to assess for yourself how many of the decisions you make are based on what you truly want, or what others want for you. Decide who the authentic you is and honor that person before you agree with others by reflex. In the words of The Strokes, “Didn’t you know there was a choice, it’s never yours but someone else’s voice.” Find your individual voice among the chatter of others’.

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