We all feel them—the urge to fit within the mold. Whether it is the need to join the herd on Facebook, the need to join a particular college, or the need to watch a popular show. That’s why we’ll pick the busy restaurant across the street over the empty one we planned to eat at. We feel these various pressures from a young age. It is hardwired into our genome.
Our brains are built to ensure that we will come to hold the beliefs and values of those around us.
The self is more of a superhighway for social influence than it is the impenetrable private fortress we believe it to be. – Matthew Lieberman – Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect.
Figuring out which “truths” we hold and that don’t serve us is hard to do. It is even harder unlearning those very same beliefs we have taken on that were never our own.
That is why I always strongly encourage people study and/or live abroad. When you experience another way of life in a different society, you inherently see things differently. What one culture deems as normal, another would find bizarre. What one finds gross, is a normal way of life. It is like the famous Justice Potter Stewart quote “you know it when you see it.” When you experience another world, you realize the arbitrary nature of your own. It is much easier to then take a healthy distance objective view on your own life and work.
In individualistic cultures, such as the United States, the self is defined by independence, distinctiveness from others, and personal freedom. In contrast, in interdependent cultures, such as Japan, the self is defined by one’s relationships, group memberships, and connections with others. In Japan, maintaining a sense of belongingness and harmonious relations is of paramount importance. Japanese people possess a strong external frame of reference; they view themselves through the eyes of others and strive to maintain “face” and avoid shame. – Lora E. Park
“Your way or the highway” may work in some contexts, but not in them all.