I wrote an essay for a composition class and wanted to share it as it is very close to my heart (and my work). I think it deserves an A, don’t you? I’m just kidding. It’s probably terrible.
Challenging the Status Quo to Recreate Ourselves as Individuals in Society
The collective idea to be consumed from the perspectives of non-conformists is that human beings cannot effectively contribute to the growth of their society unless they challenge the status quo by choosing to see themselves through their own eyes and thoughts rather than through the ideals of what is standardly the norm. The classic writings of non-conformists such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Erich Fromm persuade us to accept this idea: that the successful development of society is dependent on the will of its human beings to be self-reliant. This ideal is very much—or should be—alive today.
In the first selection of Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk, titled Of Our Spiritual Strivings, the Harvard graduate from Great Barrington, Massachusetts defines the sensation of double-consciousness as the principle of what is known today as generalized anxiety: somehow what others think of you is more indicative of who you are than what you truly think of yourself. “It is a peculiar sensation,” Du Bois writes about being discriminated against in his early years before he went to university in 1885, “this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others.” Though he recognizes that he “was different from the others; or like, mayhap, in heart and life and longing, but shut out from their world by a vast veil,” he never lets “the veil” stop him from achieving his dreams or challenging the status quo to rise above what should be as it relates to his life.
As he recalls his peers’ contrasting response to racism—what he describes as his own prison—it is clear that Du Bois’ status as an influential leader was due to his own self-reliance. “With other black boys the strife was not so fiercely sunny; their youth shrunk into tasteless sycophancy, or into silent hatred of the pale world about them and mocking distrust of everything white… ” But instead of hating the white students around him like the other African American children his age, Du Bois would challenge himself to beat them at examinations or races, so he could gain fulfillment from that. Just because society in the late 1800s and early 1900s would have an African American such as Du Bois be trapped behind this veil he presents, he instead goes on to be the first African American man to graduate with a PhD from Harvard University and to co-found the ever-famous National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). For him, self-reliance started at a very young age, and didn’t ever really stop, which is why he is widely deemed an “essential force” of the African American movement. Would #BlackLivesMatter even exist today if it weren’t for Du Bois’—and the influences of so many others—refusal to accept what society thought was okay? Or would the importance of racial equality not even be a notable topic in our presidential debates?
Before Du Bois, a nineteenth-century speaker and preacher named Ralph Waldo Emerson notes the necessity of non-conformism in an essay titled Self-Reliance, “foolish consistency”—a fault that Emerson presents as a barrier to human beings’ transition from conformists to individuals—notwithstanding. It is his belief that self-reliance leads to the discovery of the true meaning of the world, using passion as a device to that end. “A man is relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work and done his best;” Emerson writes, “but what he has said or done otherwise, shall give him no peace. ”
The company I work for was founded on the goal of utilizing the most of its people by empowering them to think for themselves as a way to never conform to the current status quo. The company is driven on a basis of kaizen, which is a Japanese word defined as continuous improvement. To kaizen the process of a company which “society wants to exist,” its people must work with passion or do what Emerson describes as “put his heart into his work.” If I, as an associate of this company, did not do my best; instead, I put in the minimum amount of effort that would guarantee me a paycheck, would I be an asset to it? As we must lead with passion to contribute to the success of a company which wishes to advance, we must lead with the ideals that we are passionate about—with self-reliance—to contribute to the success of a developmental society.
Erich Fromm, a psychoanalyst born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1900, presents the idea that obedience to a fault—in the situation of a world war—could lead to the extinction of whole societies, or even, the entire human population. “If the capacity for disobedience constituted the beginning of human history,” Fromm writes in a selection from his book titled Beyond the Chains of Illusion: My Encounter with Marx and Freud, “obedience might cause the end of human history. ”
Fromm’s claim that the absence of self-reliance in our society could lead to our untimely death, although very direct and to an extreme measure, is inevitably logical. “If atomic weapons are to be deployed and used to destroy some or all of civilization,” Fromm goes on, “some single individual has to be obedient in order to press the buttons. ” What kind of power does the United States’ military have to end society and civilization as we know it, simply because of orders? How easy would it be for some guy to impact our country—or the entire world—in such a way on the basis alone that he refused to be self-reliant instead of first thinking how wrong it would be before he decided to just do exactly what he was told?
Though the experiences and literary devices by which these authors have utilized to convince society of how it is negatively impacting itself are different, the message of one’s self-reliance is transparent throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and even today. If every human being was to give up their dreams and what they believe is right at the first sight of double-consciousness, society as a whole would never be self-reliant enough to achieve anything, or develop enough to be continuously functional. Our society as we know it depends on its citizens to look inwardly every time the opportunity presents itself to challenge the status quo to be better by recreating ourselves into human beings that our own society wants to exist.
Du Bois, W.E.B. “Of Our Spiritual Strivings.” A World of Ideas: Essential Readings for College Writers. 8th ed. Ed. Lee A. Jacobus. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2010. 287-299. Print.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “Self-Reliance.” A World of Ideas: Essential Readings for College Writers. 8th ed. Ed. Lee A. Jacobus. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2010. 255-269. Print.
Fromm, Erich. “The Individual in the Chains of Illusion.” A World of Ideas: Essential Readings for College Writers. 8th ed. Ed. Lee A. Jacobus. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2010. 325-338. Print.
Kaizen Institute. “What is Kaizen?” https://www.kaizen.com/about-us/definition-of-kaizen.html
Shook, Robert L. “The Honda Motor Company: The Beginning.” Honda: An American Success Story. 1st ed. Ed. Paul Aron. New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1988. 3-24. Print.
Honda. “What We Believe.” http://csr.honda.com/what-we-believe/
A Bestselling Author, NPO Director, and Psychology Today Columnist from Burbank, California, Allie Burke writes books she can’t find in the bookstore. Having been recognized as writing a “kickass book that defies the genre it’s in”, Allie writes with a prose that has been labeled poetic and ethereal.
Her life is a beautiful disaster, flowered with the harrowing existence of inherited eccentricity, a murderous family history, a faithful literature addiction, and the intricate darkness of true love. These are the enchanting experiences that inspire Allie’s fairytales.
From some coffee shop in Los Angeles, she is working on her next novel.