Monday, June 24, 2013

Culture Forms Opinion

We Are What People Tell Us We Are

You think an actor such as Gwyneth Paltrow or Brad Pitt is attractive? Do you think that’s a value you arrived at on your own? The idea of beautiful is not mine or yours. That idea is a heritage no less than the color of our skin or hair. It’s a composite of what our predecessors accepted and what our current culture tells us. And as you may guess, ideas change, not because of our individual sensibilities, but through a consensus of opinion over time. Billboards, magazines, computers, and television are redefining beauty, and we adopt their opinion and think it’s our own.

In like manner, do you think you own your ideas of successful, talented, needy, poor? These values don’t come from inside us. They are foisted on us by not only our history, but our neighbors, our church, our country, and even our family.

Are you intelligent? Are you unattractive? Only if the opinion of others says you are. You have no control over that opinion. Are you tall? Fat? You accept “tall” and “fat” based not on a judgment you’ve made, rather it’s the “collective” standard that applies. And if you insist on defining yourself contrary to “collective” standards, you may end up on a psychiatrist’s couch. Then, regardless of the capabilities of your mind, you will be maladjusted. Trying to be somebody other than what people tell us we are brings on problems for us, not our environment.

Are you happy? This concept too is defined and controlled by our “collective” existence. Depressed? It’s all out there, outside you, in the great collective “depressed.”
Even our idea of honesty is not our own, and this idea, as much as any other, is changing. Can an ad that guarantees you’ll lose weight by taking a pill be honest when the pill doesn’t work. We don’t call this dishonest advertising. However, Truth has become harder to define. In the past, a truth had an accuracy of 100%. Now, we credit the claims of people (and companies) even if they’re proven accurate only 10% of the time and erroneous 90%. The subtle shift in definition is accepted when the collective authorizes it, most often by the media. I won’t get into politicians, but if you’ve been following the news, you know our leaders lose little if any respect when caught in a lie. As long as whatever is proposed contains 1% of truth, it can be defended as being “true.” The media treats all allegations, even untruths, with respect, as if there is no definable truth. 

In the past, before the heavy hand of the media came upon us, there was some flexibility in concepts, especially those of happiness and personal beauty. But the fetters get ever tighter. Can I be happy without facebook or a new car? Can I be beautiful if my teeth aren’t straight? If my lips are thin? If my ears poke out? If only the answer were “yes.”

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