The Opposite Of Self-Expression Is Approval

God & Man

The first thing we’re taught in school is fear.

We are taken to a new place, a space we’ve never seen, and we are left there with a stranger as our parents turn and leave.

We don’t know what’s happening or why.

Abandonment is scary, but it goes away.

The second thing we’re taught in school is scary but it doesn’t leave. It’s called conformity.

Show up at this time. Sit here. Raise your hand if you want to speak. Ask the teacher if you can pee. Learn what we tell you. Eat lunch at this time. Memorize and fall in line. Be silent or be punished. Question the content but never the process. Disruption will be disciplined. Go home at this time.

Sound familiar?

In this system of education, self-expression is repressed behavior.

We hide who we are. We are punished for laughing and being loud, so we master silence. We are mocked when we dress differently, so we welcome uniformity. We are taught that standing up and speaking out means struggle, so we consent to not being different. We grow content with not making waves and are rewarded for it with straight As.

A for approval. A for acceptance. A for acquiescence.

We dress alike and joke alike and eat alike and think alike. We even rebel alike when we get in fights or maybe steal a bike or just stop trying. Some seek failure and obtain it, wearing trouble like a badge of honor. They don’t fit in, so they quit. And we quit on them, give up on them, watch them leave and grieve them as walking warning signs for the rest of us.

There is a difference between surrender and submission, but we are too young to know it and haven’t yet learned it so we resign our human right to self-expression and pledge allegiance to repress it. After all, the opposite of creativity is approval, and in school approval is everything.

This manipulation continues on for years. We advance our age and grades while concurrently learning to be docile, subservient. We don’t see until it’s too late that our teachers are shepherds, underpaid and unappreciated but doing the best they can with what they have, good people in a bad system.

At graduation, our training is complete when we’re perceived as incomplete. We are no longer creatives, but consumers taught to search outside ourselves for the fixes we think we need.

We know that more is what we’re searching for and our self-esteem is eased with a new dress or a nice car, a big TV or a trip to the bar. We look okay on the outside. We all have clothes and jobs and a bit of money for a bit of fun and the weekend will come soon enough. We’re ‘good enough’, but is ‘good enough’, enough?

Deep down, we’ve cut up and crafted square hearts to fit in and square with society’s rote and round hole hopes and it seems to work. After all, things could be worse, right?


I’m not so sure.

Although we fit where we are told to go, are we ever really whole? And when we lose parts of who we are to fit somewhere else, are we ever really there? And can we be fully seen or loved when we exist from a place of conformity instead of expression?

Of course not.

When we are not wholeheartedly honoring who we are and what we feel, when we bite our tongue and hide our truth, when we take jobs we don’t want to buy shit we don’t need in order to please our parents or community, we suffer. And when we all do that, when we are all taught to do that, the suffering spreads.

We are a culture unified by pain. We are a society of people with unfulfilled potential feverishly searching to fill a hole in our soul we were forced to dig. We were given a shovel before we knew better and we were told and taught to excavate ourselves.

Does this make sense? Do you see how suffering is perpetuated through parenting, schooling, and culture? Do you see how pain is not just common but a cornerstone of our culture? Do you understand how normality is cowardly but taught to us from primary school onwards?

Unlearning is the solution we all seek but don’t know we need. We must unlearn conformity, or at the least, redefine it.

We take our power back by unlearning the programs we were taught as kids. We take our power back by regressing back to our expressive selves.

When we claim the freedom to be who we truly are, and to share what we truly feel, and to do what we truly desire, all without fear of judgement or retribution, THAT is when the shift occurs. THAT is when things start to happen. THAT is the birth of aliveness and lightness.

But we can’t just learn more to get there. We have to unlearn first.

And that’s hard, and huge.

It’s a big first step, yes, but take it.

Please take it. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

Jeremy Goldberg is trying to make kindness cool, and the world better than it was yesterday. Follow him on Instagram for daily inspiration!

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