1. No one escapes social conditioning. It doesn’t matter how smart, rebellious, thoughtful, analytical, spiritual, or self-aware we are. The wires of our beings were plugged into society on the day we were born. Beyond learning the essentials (good/bad, right/wrong) we absorbed systems, paths, and hierarchies. We took in hope, promises, success, and shame. We watched millions of images, heard millions of words, and saw thousands and thousands of stories, real and fictional, being played out. Even if we were consciously aware of all theses wires, which would be impossible, pulling even 10,000 of them would be a life’s work. We cannot unlearn everything we’ve been taught. We can only learn more. And many, many of us will keep our learning in the comfort zone of what we’ve been already been taught. It’s more comfortable to use our intelligence to confirm what we already know/suspect or believe/hope, rather than to change the schematic.
2. We’re all in denial. From the very first emotion or thought we had to suppress in order to gain a reward or avoid a punishment, probably no later than the age two, we were taught to deny more than our real feelings, but also the cause and nature of them. If we were angry, it couldn’t be because our parent was unreasonable, but because we weren’t good or obedient enough. If we hated, we couldn’t hate, because hate was bad. We learned to kiss the distant relative with the stinky breath on command, even though it assaulted our senses. Beyond learning how to control our emotions and get along in a crowded, diverse world, we were taught that many of our “negative” emotions were shameful or invalid. We carried our denial into the school years, where we were further taught what was polite to acknowledge and what was not. By the time we made it to the world of work and adulthood, we were steeped in fictions for so long that they felt truer than the truth.
3. We’re all liars. Every single one of us, even those who vehemently deny it. To get by, to make a living, we don’t serve the truth—we say and do what serves our own best interests. We lie to others in order to be liked, in order to be more popular, to keep the peace, to avoid conflict, because we feel we have to, but we also lie to ourselves, constantly and all the time. To prop up our ego, to impose our own sense of order on the world, to make ourselves feel innocent, and to justify our feelings towards another person or situation. Sometimes, when our hopes are flagging and our best efforts have failed, we even do it to make ourselves feel worse—more humble, less deserving, or less worthy.
4. We all know we’re different, but find it hard to admit—especially when it comes to other, different people. It raises ire when someone stands up and admits that they feel different, and perhaps a bit like an outsider. We ask: What makes them think they’re so special – as if feeling somewhat alienated is an egoistic trait or a badge of honor. As a kneejerk response, we start comparing our stories to theirs to find reasons why it’s unacceptable that they feel that way (you’re not all that; you’re life was no better/worse than mine; other people don’t complain). We start casting blame and aspersions (it’s your fault; you’re just making excuses; you just want to be different), even when none are warranted. This indignant outrage comes from our social conditioning, which has set a ratio of sheep to lions, and which makes most of us sheep. It comes from resenting the repression we’ve been taught makes us “good” — including all the truths we’ve left unspoken and the many lies we’ve told. To see someone else point out that the emperor is delusional, when we know we are part of, or complicit in, that delusion, leaves us feeling bitter, hurt and remotely guilty for not being brave enough to stand up and name the ways we feel different and a bit on the outside, too.
5. We are afraid to peel back the layers. We prefer to deny that they exist, or that they have had any affect on us. We have been taught to fear chaos, especially in ourselves. We’ve come to rely on certain machines—social, cultural, political and marketing—to give us everything we need, from entertainment and inspiration, to orderly schools of thought and spirituality. We see these machines as authority figures who “keep us in the know” and as vetting processes for all that’s good/bad, in/out, true/false, worthy/unworthy, funny/tragic. Virtually no one is left untouched, even those who purposely try to stay out of the loop. (I once met a young woman who adamantly denied that she was affected by culture. She was a hermit, she told me, and lived without electricity in the woods. She had pink hair, tattoos, Converse sneakers, and a “Free Tibet” sticker on her car. It’s doubtful that any of these things would have sprung up organically, without influence). Every one of us wears layers of something else, from somewhere else, that are not fully natural. We didn’t choose some of those layers and there are others we might not choose now if they were more like checkboxes on a test, rather than so everywhere that they’ve come to feel natural. Still, behind those layers, our spirits tick or spark with restlessness—with the feeling of something left unfinished, something that needs to be done, something that is hungry and wanting, and not yet satisfied. We’re afraid that if we start shedding back the layers, that hunger will only grow, and perhaps become our undoing.
6. The world really is crazy. And if you know this—if you’re not one of those who’ve decided that the machines have a rational system and are in a better vetting position than you, than you’re ahead of the game. Not that it really matters out there in the world, because absolutely nothing will change—you’ll still be along for part of the ride no matter how much you buck and claw—but at least you won’t go crazy trying to find logic in the illogical. You’ll only feel bewildered by how outnumbered you are, and how very different and on the outside that makes you feel.