Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Most Individual


            My mom tells me that I’m unique. She tells me that I’m special. She says there’s no one else in the world like me. That’s a comforting thought, but is it true? Genetically, yes. There is undeniably no other person who shares my identical chemical composition. So why do I—and millions of other people in this country—strive to flaunt their individuality in such candid ways? Almost every choice that I make reflects an intentional motive within me, whether conscious or subconscious. All of these choices, over time, have aggregated into what I consider as my current self. This is an ephemeral self; it changes after every consecutive decision. The general social attitude today suggests that when we make the same choices as other people, we’re suppressing our individuality. American culture promotes being one of a kind, even when it’s unnecessary.
            I like to shop at Goodwill. It’s one of my favorite places to buy clothes. But while the majority of people who go there are attracted by their low prices, I’m drawn in for a different reason. I can wade through the endless racks of T-shirts and find one that, with relative certainty, I will never see on another person my whole life. I look for the most bizarre, unique shirts. It’s a way that I project my own individuality to other people. But it seems sort of stupid if the very reason that I look for these shirts is for the purpose of being unique. I should get them because I actually like them, not because I’m trying to portray myself in a particular manner.
            The urge to not be a ‘copycat’ is widely observable in our society. In fact, studies have even been done to document this effect of mental influence. Dan Ariely and Jonathan Levav conducted a study at a popular bar in their town. They gave any tables of more than two people a chance to select one of four free local micro-brewed beer samples. For half of the tables, the server asked each person to mark his or her choice on a card without telling anyone else. For the other half, the servers took the orders sequentially, and out loud. What they discovered was that on average, the people who privately ordered their beers were more satisfied with their choice because they felt no pressure selecting the beer that they truly wanted. For the people who ordered out loud, they reported being less satisfied, with the exception of the first person to order.
            So what’s my point? I can tell you one thing for sure: I will continue to shop at Goodwill. The choices I make for the sake of being an individual are likely not going change. But I challenge you to at least acknowledge the reason that you’re doing something. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be different, but don’t trick yourself into thinking it’s for the wrong reason. Most importantly, don’t feel embarrassed to make the same choice as someone else.