From what you wear to what you do with your life, there seems to be a foundational obsession with being different in my generation. Every coming of age movie touts youth with tastes and habits that border on insane, rewrapped in witty dialogue and the beauty of Hollywood’s lovely faces—all in the name and defense of being different. Books, too, once a bastion of reason and depth of thought, have fallen into the same trap, relating characters that have little to no basis in reality and are, as ever, glorified for being different. Everyone is trying to be different from everyone else—which, ironically and cruelly, makes us all exactly the same.
But how can this be? Let me explain.
If we are all obsessed with how to be different, we will look for a playbook on how to accomplish it. During my university days, it seemed that finding fledgling bands before anyone else (then announcing it over the PA system of social media, once said band became famous), wearing Toms or Rainbows or nothing at all, rolling up your ripped jeans, sporting faded flannel and, for men, growing out beards (no matter how damn spotty) was the path to being different. Girls wore and continue to wear high waisted jean shorts that don’t fit well but are, indeed, different. Of course, after a few years, everyone started looking the same and, a-la Lady Gaga and Rihanna, stiletto nails, half-head buzzcuts and knee-high stockings became the norm. Nothing sticks and ‘different’ spoils as quickly as spilled milk on a hot day, and we all end up looking like clones of something out of my parents’ trash heap.
Politically, this looks like young people getting behind causes they don’t fully understand and have no intention of researching because, quite plainly, it’s just part of the Different Game. I have absolutely been a perpetrator of this nonsense, but being a part of it and looking back on it have shown me a chilling fact: Those obsessed with being different are easy to control.
If your main goal is to be different, the first thing you’ll move towards is something that anyone has the idiocy or cleverness to call different. You will embrace that thing without truly knowing what’s going on. I firmly believe that this happened with Obama’s first and second elections, as far as young adults were concerned—the first election was about doing something different, electing the first black president,because WOW that means we’re not racist anymore. The second election seemed to be about proving that the first one wasn’t a mistake and that, hey look, we’re still not racists. It was new, it was undeniably hip and, most importantly, it was different.
Here’s the thing, being different for the sake of it is like using a spoon to eat all your food. Most of the time, it will yield fair results—you can manage most of the major food groups—but forget trying to eat a steak. It’s the same with ideas. Just because an idea is different and catchy doesn’t mean it will stick around for the duration. Tell me: How many startups have there been in the last ten years? I would bet there have been as many since 2005 as there are 20-year olds living in their parents’ basement. And how many of them are still around today? Exactly.
We need to think and ask questions about every idea that comes across our computer screens, purporting to be the next big iDo that will save the world or the next big petition that will save everyone. Ask yourself: Who sponsors or stands to gain from this? Why are they pushing it this way and not another way? What are the long term effects? These questions are rarely-to-never found on the package of a political product, but that makes them no less necessary. The policies of today are the realities tomorrow and good ideas stick because they work, they have been tested, they have been challenged—not just because they are different. Don’t subject yourself to the tyranny of being different! Challenge ideas before you embrace them (or, worse yet, vote for them), and we might just have a shot at being proud of what we hand off to the next generation.