OPINION – My son Forrest recently celebrated his 17th birthday. As his mother and I took him to dinner to celebrate, we had a heartfelt conversation about his future that has stuck with me for the past few days.
I’m not ashamed to admit that my son is someone I’ve come to admire greatly. He’s been blessed with a great mind, self-discipline, and the kind of focus that will allow him to go far in life. He intends to become a pharmacist just as my dad was.
As we talked of his future plans, we discussed the importance of not allowing others to write his life’s script for him. This seems like a no-brainer but most people are shocked when they finally realize the degree to which we allow this to happen in our own lives.
American society has become wrapped in an institutional cocoon that spells out the appropriate path we are expected to take.
Think about it: To become a respectable, successful member of society – at least according to conventional wisdom – there is a clear script in place that we must follow.
We are to go to school and earn good grades. Typically this will be in a government school where testing is emphasized.
We’re expected to get a university degree and even encouraged to take on debt, in the form of student loans, to do so. This is supposed to make us an attractive hire for the corporate world where we hope to secure a good job with great benefits.
Along the way, we are encouraged to provide outward proof of our success by purchasing clothing, shoes, cars, and household products with the proper respectable name brands. The entertainment with which we pass our nonworking hours is also a slickly packaged corporate product.
The script encourages us to put our children into daycare, to take out a home loan, and to save for our retirement in a 401(k).
It directs us to spend hours connecting with others via social media and instant messaging and to think about current events and issues in soundbites or clever memes.
We are supposed to believe in democracy and that voting is the highest form of good citizenship. We’re told to trust in our government and to be obedient to its instructions.
This is the institutional script by which a vast majority of Americans live their daily lives. People who follow it and don’t try to make waves will find that their conformity has earned them the approval of the corporate and political powers who promote the script.
It’s not an unpleasant life that has been scripted for us. But it’s not the same thing as truly living either.
Paul Rosenberg said:
Corporate life takes place vicariously: in advertisements, in movies, and in politics. Even its McChildren are prevented from interaction with the real world — rushed from one institution to another, then safely back home: numbered, evaluated, and surveilled the whole time.
The streets, offices, and boardrooms of the mega-corp world are rich and shiny, but they are swept clean of real life. They are places where souls go to (wither) and die — albeit slowly and with continuous validation.
A person who chooses to depart from this script will almost certainly experience serious push-back. Just ask any parent who chooses to exercise his or her prerogative to educate their child at home. Or consider the couple that decides to have a home birth or the family that gets rid of their television.
By going off-script, they often find that they’re viewed with suspicion or resentment and strongly urged to get back on the same page with everyone else.
But they are not the ones who are selling themselves short.
The sad truth is that the majority of American society today have been trained to doubt themselves and their own judgment. They’ve been taught to seek safety in the crowd rather than standing up and asserting themselves and trusting that they are fully capable of choosing their own path to fulfillment.
Following the herd may be more comfortable in the short term but also carries deeper regret upon reaching the end of one’s life and realizing the opportunities that were lost while trying to fit in.
To this end, my wife and I are encouraging our children to think outside of the corporate cocoon when it comes to setting and going after their life goals.
We teach them that the highest purpose of their lives has little to do with getting a job, making lots of money, and buying as much material wealth as they possibly can.
None of these things is evil in itself. But there are captives to liberate, beauty to create, sick people to heal, truth to proclaim, and hungry to be fed.
Accomplishing these things requires writing your own script.
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Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and opinion writer in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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