You may think that who you are as an individual is the result of your own making. It’s easy to think that your values, beliefs, hopes, and fears are uniquely your own. Yet the reality is, the makeup of your mind has largely been shaped and molded by the social conditioning of your environment, with little conscious choice on your end.
Think of yourself as a computer, and think of your mind as the operating system keeping it running. In the same way that a computer’s operating system comes prepackaged with default programs, your mind came prepackaged with implicit values, beliefs, assumptions, social customs and norms; almost all of these have shaped the person sitting here today.
When you were raised in this society, this operating system (OS), was downloaded into you. From your parents, to your peers, to the media, and your environment; your OS is simply an aggregation of these influences throughout your life.
It shapes your self-concept. It shapes the type of people you identify with. It shapes your hopes and dreams, your fears and frustrations. It shapes how you look at your past, and how you look at your future. How you think, feel and act is determined by the social conditioning your mind has undergone throughout your life.
Yet most people never think to examine this. Most live their entire lives never challenging the assumptions they’ve always held. Never questioning why they value the things they value, or why they believe in the things they believe in.
This OS has been running in the shadows of your mind your entire life, and in this article we’re going to finally shed some light on it. In doing so, you’ll begin to break free of its control, and gain a greater degree of freedom in your life as a result. Let’s get started.
THE OS OF THE WESTERN WORLD
You and I share an operating system from the Western world, which for most part, is incredible. In our society we value:
- Personal Freedom
- Self Determination
- Equal Opportunity
We all have the desire to better our lives. We all want more for ourselves and our loved ones. We all have a higher vision of our lives which we strive towards. This is a direct result of the conditioning of the Western world, and nothing is wrong with that.
It’s the engine that allows our society to grow, innovate, and evolve. It’s what got us to the moon, drove us to cure diseases, and ended segregation. The incredible quality of life we benefit from today is a result of the Western ambition.
But as amazing as your current OS is, there are a few critical points to understand…
THE ROLL OF THE COSMIC DICE
Firstly, your operating system is simply the result of the time and place in which you were born and raised. Don’t overly-identify with it. If you were born in a different time in history or in a different part of the world, chances are that your beliefs and attitudes would be radically different.
In Japan, 33% of the population are atheists. In Ghana, 96% of the population are extremely religious. Those numbers aren’t by accident. The people around you (especially your parents), highly determine where your spiritual views skew.
If you were born in India, Pakistan or any of the Southeast Asian countries that practice arranged marriages, chances are your attitude towards dating would be radically different. Even your sense of what’s attractive in the opposite sex is the result of geography. In America, men tend to prefer petite women. But if you live in Mauritania, big is beautiful – an obese wife is a sign of wealth and prestige.
Your taste in food is dependant on where you grew up. In certain parts of India, they eat dog. To us in the West, many find this appalling. Yet we eat plenty of beef from cows. If you were a Hindu living in India, you’d view that with the same distaste.
My point is this; your mind is the result of chance. The preferences you have, the prejudices you hold, the things you value; it’s all the roll of the cosmic dice. It’s the result of your culture, your environment, your parents – all of which you were thrown into. You could have been born in any of the countries I mentioned earlier, and you would have turned out to be completely different from who you are today.
Be aware of this, and don’t blindly identify with the OS itself. Sure, you can have certain beliefs and values, but don’t think that they’re yours. Hardly any of it was the result of your own choosing.
Beware of the trap of social conditioning
BUGS IN THE OPERATING SYSTEM
Secondly, like all operating systems, your OS contains inevitable bugs. In other words, not everything you’re conditioned into believing is in your best interest. Not everything the masses accept is actually true.
Believe it or not, there were periods of history where a whole nation held incredibly backwards, asinine beliefs, simply because it was the norm.
At one point, people were convinced the world was flat because everyone around them told them so. At another point in history, people legitimately believed in witches. Witch hunts were common – tens of thousands of women were murdered for the good of all.
Just a few decades ago, a lunatic with a strange moustache convinced an entire nation that their problems were caused by the Jewish segment of their population, and that the world would be a better place if they were all exterminated.
Why are things like this happening? How are such dangerous ideas able to spread throughout the masses? Let’s review some studies on conformity to see how easily our minds can be tricked into believing things that are blatantly wrong.
HOW DANGEROUS IDEAS GET ADOPTED BY MASSES OF PEOPLE
In the aftermath of the Second World War, many German soldiers were questioned about how they could take part in such horrific acts. A common response was “I was just following orders.” So in the 1960’s, Stanley Milgrim of Yale University conducted a series of experiments to explore this type of blind obedience.
Milgram created a fake electric shock generator, with switches starting at 30 volts, increasing to an alarming 450 volts. Participants in the study took the role of a “teacher” who delivered a shock to a “student” every time they answered a question incorrectly. The student was an assistant in the study, and simply pretended to be shocked. When a student answered incorrectly, a shock would ensue, and a pre-recorded audio would play of the student screaming in agony.
Right around 300 volts, is where the student started to bang the wall and plead to be released. The “teacher” was hesitant to continue, but the person running the experiment assured them that everything was fine, and encouraged them to continue the shocks if need be.
One would think that if the person you’re shocking is in that much pain, you’d stop? Yet over 65% of participants obeyed the experimenter, and delivered the maximum amount of shock to the student.
Here’s another fascinating one.
In the 50’s a psychologist named Solomon Asch conducted an experiment on conformity. In the study, students were told they were participating in a “vision test.” Other than a single subject, all other participants were actually assistants to the experimenter. All subjects were shown a line and asked to choose the matching line from a group of three lines of different lengths. Unless you were blind, the answer would be dead simple.
Most of the time, everyone in the group chose the right line. But every once in a while, the other participants unanimously declared a different line was actually the right match, even if was obvious it was wrong. You’d think every single subject would still choose the right line. Results found that nearly a third of the time, the subject conformed to the group and chose the wrong line.
That’s a frightening number. 33% of people conformed, and chose the wrong line, even though it was blindingly obvious it wasn’t the right length. And this was about something as black and white as choosing the length of a line.
What’s important to understand here is this… Most decisions we make are in the grey zone, where things aren’t clear cut. From the career choices we make, to the partners we choose, to the political sides we take.
The scariest fact is that our minds are most susceptible to conform when the conditions we’re in are unclear. The less certain a situation is, the more we look towards the eyes of others to tell us how to think and act. Here’s an extreme example:
In the book Influence, Robert Cialdini recounts the story of a woman named Catherine Genovese, who was killed in 1964, coming home from work late night in Queens, New York. There are many murders in New York, but what stood out about this incident was the manner in which it occurred. Her murder wasn’t a quick, silent death. It was a long, loud, public event that took place over a half hour, as she was attacked three separate times during this period. There were 38 separate people who saw the murder take place, whilst in their homes. Hearing her screams of terror from behind their windows.
As Genovese slowly died on the street, none of them came to help or even called authorities. They waited around and looked for cues from other neighbors what to do. Since everybody was waiting for something to happen, nothing happened.
Again, when we’re put in uncertain situations, we tend to look even closer to those around us. We begin relying even further on others to tell us how to think, act, and behave. The more ambiguous the situation, the more conformity takes fold.
Yet reality is ambiguous, and almost every area of our lives is in the grey zone.
The political sides you take, the career choices you make, the long-term goals you have, the partners you’re drawn towards, how you define success. You’re entire value system…
All of these aspects of your life are in the grey zone. These issues are subjective, ambiguous, and don’t contain right or wrong answers.
It’s the perfect storm for conformity, obedience, and blind acceptance to take place.
MOST DANGEROUS GLITCH IN OS: INHERENT LACK
One of the most dangerous glitches in our operating system – where blind acceptance is widespread – is the idea of conditional happiness.
From birth, we’re indoctrinated into a model of happiness that is simply untrue. From an early age, we’re conditioned to believing we have an inherent lack, and this lack needs to be filled externally in order to experience happiness.
In the Declaration of Independence, it was written that all individuals have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – implying that happiness is acquired. This set the framework in which our society operates. We believe that in order to acquire happiness (H), you need X.
You can replace X with whatever suits you…
- Romantic partners
- Material objects
- Being appreciated
- Being right
- Being understood
- Being an individual
- Being enlightened
Let’s call this the “X → H” glitch. It’s the trap of filling a void that doesn’t exist.
If you think about it, the majority of the problems in our lives stems from this. The stresses we have, the worries, the fears, the frustrations we experience in our day-to-day lives; it all stems from not having a particular condition met before we can be simply allow ourselves to relax.
HOW THE “X → H” GLITCH FORMS
In many of his famous lectures, Ram Dass talks how our parents condition their kids into the illusion of conditional happiness. If you had a good set of parents, they wanted the best for you. So they tried their best to raise you right, and offer you as much love as they could give.
But even if you had the greatest parents in the world, somewhere along the lines being raised by them, you learned that if you performed a certain action (being nice to your brother or sister), you’d receive love from them. If you performed another action (not eating your peas), you wouldn’t receive love.
This process unintentionally imprinted the initial model of conditional happiness into our young, impressionable minds. It seeded the idea that #1) we need to be a certain type of person to receive love and #2) certain parts of our inherent self are unacceptable and should be pushed under the rug. Jim Morrison once said:
“The most loving parents and relatives commit murder with smiles on their faces. They force us to destroy the person we really are: a subtle kind of murder.”
As Morrison eloquently states, we become conditioned to conform to our parents version of us, in order to receive their love. In doing so, a part of our true selves dies in the process.
And this is the best case scenario if you had great parents. Some people had terrible parents,who were neglectful, abusive, and extreme with their conditional love. Some didn’t even have parents altogether. In these types of situations, the lack in the child’s life becomes imprinted even deeper.
ILLUSIONARY LADDERS OF HAPPINESS
As we age, the “X → H” glitch only deepens further. This glitch manifests as ladders of success. These ladders imply reaching the top will bring you success, and consequently the long term happiness we all want. Ironically, these ladders typically lead to the opposite. The creators of South Park animated a talk by Alan Watts that can illustrate this point:
At an early age we’re presented with the educational ladder. Once completed you move towards…
- Career ladders
- Financial ladders
- Material ladders
- Romantic ladders
- Religious ladders
- Intellectual ladders
- Moral ladders
Even if you think you’re a non-conformist, chances are, you’re still on a ladder. Instead of climbing up the traditional ladders of happiness, many base their self worth on their ability to climb their way down. From hippies, to travel addicts, to those in the nonprofit sector, they trade financial success with their own version of success.
Here’s what you need to understand; there are ladders everywhere. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from; conformist, non-conformist, rebel, or rule follower. Whoever you are, you’re running off the same illusion that some external source is required for happiness. Whether that’s money, success, God, anything and everything.
In reality, you don’t need as much as you may believe to be happy. You don’t need to acquire anything. You don’t need to achieve anything. You don’t need to be anything. You don’t need any special knowledge, or appreciation, praise, or any degree of success. You can’t gain anything that you’ve never lost, and you can’t fill a lack that doesn’t exist. You simply need to see beyond the illusions that are veiling this truth.
The wisest minds, and spiritual mystics throughout history have all pointed back towards this single point; everything is okay. You can relax. The world can be crumbling around you, but all is well. You already have it. Everything is okay. You just need to quieten down, search within, and you’ll discover that everything you’re looking for is sitting in your lap.