are you doing what you're told?

30 September, 2019

Throughout my day I often think about what motivates me to do the things I do and why. I also find that people are always telling me that other people are telling me what to do, and there's a lot to sort through in all the messages we are getting everyday. I'm trying to find out who I'm really listening to and if this person is or ever can just be me.

And sometimes I stop in my tracks and think: "why am I doing something that takes much more effort than what I actually want to do, just because I think other people want me to do it?" An easy example is walking along the sidewalk when it would be much faster just to cut through the grass to get where I want to go. I sacrifice my time and my energy to follow what some perceived audience would want me to do and it's gotten me nowhere. From small things like walking to class and big things like choosing a career. Why do we make decisions like this and how do we make them better?

I think about this a lot. Walking across the grass shouldn't feel like an act of rebellion. Wearing the shoes I want to wear shouldn't be an act of rebellion. Reading a book in public, listening to the music I want to, being my natural and comfortable self shouldn't be rebellious. But anything that I think or know will distinguish me from a crowd of people scares me so much, and these are not new and interesting thoughts because they've been said before. It's a bit of social anxiety but also wanting to conform because it's so easy I don't even realize it's my default setting.

There's this quote by Margaret Atwood that I also think about a lot and it is that:

"You are your own voyeur."

Truthfully I know I don't entirely understand the complexities of the argument that she is trying to make but in my personal life, I interpret it as all of us internalizing ideas of what other people want us to do. She was talking more in terms of the patriarchy and that is important too, but there's not just society's expectations and our parents/friends/peers/coworkers expectations. There's a combination of all of these that make us look at our behavior and correct it so that in case someone were to see us just living our life, we would conform to what we think they think we should be doing. I think this applies to all of us. Sitting alone in public we sit in a way that we think would be visually appealing to other people, with our items and clothes laid out in a normal and pleasant way, just not exactly relaxed but relaxed enough to fit in, as if we were in a movie. Does that make sense?

We even do this in public and try to always behave as if we were in a movie even though we aren't. There is no movie. I find this behavior in conversations with friends, in stores, at restaurants, at the library. We are our own voyeur even though no one is watching us. We are socially conscious of what other people might think about us if we followed our hearts even though there's nothing they can really do if we don't.

This also goes into a concept I learned about in a critical theory class about panopticons (which are really interesting stuff, you should go read about it) but basically the idea is that we've been trained to perform for other people even if there is no one watching us. There are long theories about it but for my purposes this is what I think about. Especially with cell phones and cameras every where, people could never behave like they did 30, 20, or even 10 years ago. We always have to be on guard and it's exhausting.

I need to stop thinking about how other people will see me and should just do. Just do what I want! Imagine that! Doing what you want! Is it impractical? I don't think so if you really can pin-point how you want to live your life and compare that happiness and freedom to the potential consequences of not exactly making everyone else happy all the time. It doesn't compare.

And maybe we'll never really be able to do everything that we want because we still live in a system where we have to make money and get jobs and do laundry. But it doesn't have to be the way that everyone tells you it does. Maybe we can find freedom in even the illusion of choice. Maybe my thoughts about freedom and rebellion are even just that. Maybe I'll get the courage the cut through the grass instead of walking along the sidewalk tomorrow. You never know.


Join the conversation!

  1. I wish I have the courage to cut through the grass instead of walking along the sidewalk too.
    I love this post so much because it's as if you read my mind. I want to write something like this but my English sucks so thank you for this.
    I just can't stand it when people want to be this, to do that, to wear this, to listen to that but somehow I obeyed. I don't know what is wrong with me.

    1. I think that sometimes we can all do things on autopilot without actually thinking about why we do them and realizing that is the first step. I'm glad you can relate and you should write what is in your heart! ♡


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