This summer, sitting by a fountain near the world-famous Louvre Museum in Paris, my friend and I gazed at our surroundings and noticed that our world looks a lot like a computer simulation: packs of people walking briskly in a line, holding shopping bags from posche stores, sipping coffee, and talking at a murmur–all with the backdrop of a city designed damn near perfectly.
The moment was weird. We felt like were having an outer-body experience where everything seemed frighteningly fake to us, even to the point that we turned to each other and asked, half in jest and half truthfully, if this conversation was even real. Talk about trippy.
Reflecting on that memory, the idea that we’re programmed isn’t so far-fetched. Depending on how much faith you place in the argument of the 1999 movie The Matrix, you might believe our world is a sophisticated collection of code to which we’re all subscribing. On that afternoon, I might not have believed I was a tiny blip on someone’s computer screen, but I did experience a moving reminder about socialization.
The Cycle of Socialization is one of my favorite tools to utilize in meta-inspired conversations. It’s intended to be used as a critical model to demonstrate how we internalize oppressive systems and ultimately become products of our environment, for better or for worse, until we ultimately decide whether to continue the cycle of socialization or break free and liberate. Though this model is not directly intended to interpret day-to-day life observations, I couldn’t stop thinking about it on that overcast day in Paris. Contemplating the idea that we really do “program” one another, I agitatedly asked myself these questions:
- Why is everyone drinking coffee? Why did I drink coffee this morning? Who decided the thing to do is drink coffee?
- Which of these historical monuments do people genuinely want to see, and how many people visit them just so they can take a picture because “that’s what you’re supposed to do in Paris”?
- Why are all these people reproducing? Does really everyone want kids? Are you allowed to unapologetically say you don’t want kids?!
- Why is it so countercultural that my (male) friend and I painted our nails in Paris? We literally applied a colored substance to a body part. At what point in time did that become so taboo?
One of my leadership strengths is to “challenge the process,” and I see now why that is. When we get so consumed by daily our daily lives that we become robots to the system, we’re not very different from fifty Roller Coaster Tycoon janitors cleaning up fake barf in a fake world.
Which aspects of your life do you happily live because you want to? What are the customs, traditions, rituals, identities, hair, makeup, career, etc. you subscribe to because you feel like you have to? I’ll letcha in on a little secret: You don’t have to do anything! It might be weird, but if you take an inventory of your life, you’ll notice you’re doing lots of things just “because.” Being curious, asking hard questions, naming it, and changing it are beautiful paths to liberation. You can change your life right now.