It’s your life – but only if you make it so. The standards by which you live must be your own standards, your own values, your own convictions in regard to what is right and wrong, what is true and false, what is important and what is trivial. When you adopt the standards and the values of someone else or a community or a pressure group, you surrender your own integrity. You become, to the extent of your surrender, less of a human being. – Eleanor Roosevelt, You Learn by Living


2 thoughts on “

    • I think you have a valid point. So much of what we know and think comes from society (including our notions of integrity), no matter how much we insist on our own uniqueness and individuality (and you could say our obsession over originality is derived from society.) In fact, I’d say the more we deliberately try to break away from social conventions and ideas, the more we become trapped in them (for a funny way of seeing how, I recommend reading But if we try to be more charitable to Ms. Roosevelt, I’d say that what she’s trying to say is that we ought to follow those standards which we recognize as valid and helps develop the better part of ourselves. Michel de Montaigne once said, “I quote others only in order to express myself better.” Don’t you sometimes feel that others – whether it be an intimate friend or a dead thinker from long ago – reveal aspects of yourself that you would never have known otherwise through mere introspection? And sometimes others express the ideas deep inside you that, until someone else pointed it out, were disorganized and blurry. So just because you got an idea from someone else doesn’t mean you’re following them blindly – you apply the idea to your own life and circumstances and thereby make it yours. It also means that coming up with an idea first doesn’t make it yours, just as being the first discoverer of a star does not make the star yours. It’s what you do with the idea that really counts, and so ideas can be owned by more than just one mind. In my opinion, by receiving ideas from others you become more of an individual than if you simply tried to strike out your own path and shut yourself out from the influence of others. But if you simply follow a standard because someone else told you to – whether in the form of social pressure, parents, religion, uncritical reverence, etc. – you abdicate your ability to reflect, reason, imagine, and in short to be yourself, to the point where you might as well be an automaton instead of a human. And if we define a human being, not in the biological sense, but in the larger sense of an autonomous and conscious being, then Roosevelt is right that blind conformity diminishes your humanity. But perhaps I’m trying too hard to acquit her (or I’ve gone off topic.) Any thoughts?

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