Friday, September 11, 2009

Discard Your Social Camo

There is something so sincere about a child. When we are children we have less social inhibitions and are more free to be who we really are. As a child/tween, I was a total free spirit- I was who I was with no care about how society viewed me. Proof: I wore sweatpants, Ninja Turtle t-shirts and a purple rhinestone baseball cap to school until like 7th grade. I was a fashion nightmare- but my outfits reflected 100% who I was. I didn't care how I LOOKED compared to everyone else. I cared only about how my clothess made me feel- I wore what I was comfortable in.

When I was 11, my best friend and I had big plans for our futures. We spent our time planning every detail and outlining our thoughts in a spiral notebook. We were going to move to Montana. We were going to have a house and a barn with horses, cows and other farm animals. We were going to make our money teaching horse riding lessons, holding summer camps, teaching line dancing and making and selling pottery (ok, so the plan had some gliches). In our journal we named our animals, kept a newspaper add of the land we were going to buy, and drew blueprints to our house and barn. We loved getting together and dreaming. To us, it seemed like anything we could dream up, we could do.

Then you grow up and society tells you to "get real." Get into a good college. Get on a fast track to a professional career. One day, like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, you are suddenly aware of your "flaws" and the many ways in which society is judging you- you feel naked and inadequate in front of everyone. You have to buy nicer clothes, have nicer things and act like everyone else.

I admit that for a good couple years, I fell into these pressures. In college (the first time I ever started caring about my appearance), I burned up my highschool savings on clothes. I still never felt accepted, mainstream or satisfied. Inside, I was still that free spirit. But except for certain times when I was with close friends, I felt like I had to suppress that quality of myself.

You think pressure is high in highschool and college? Well, it's through the roof in law school. There isn't so much pressure to fit in- it's more like pressure to do well in the traditional law school sense of getting good grades, being on a law journal, earning awards and achieving a high class ranking. Oh yeah, and get a JOB. And although I find that your average law student is unlike your average undergrad student and may be more prone to being "awkward" and "nerdy" and accepting of people who are unlike them- there is still a sense of "fitting in."

However, after 2.5 years of lawschool, 2 years of marriage and one year as a mom, I'm finally unlearning all the things society taught me about what being "cool" is. It finally clicked as I read To Kill A Mockingbird the second time this past summer (and as I ruminated on the concept of International Law and how the law is basically defined by behavioral "norms"). It finally hit me that- duh- society is just a herd of sheep being lead by a handful of blind but really loud shepherds. Someone yells, "this is cool! come this way!" and we all rush to comply. Society is not some divine truth. Society can be wrong just like any other individual. Proof: skinny jeans- holy hell those things are awful.

The scary part- laws are created by society. If society can be "wrong" then laws sure as hell can be "wrong." I mean, how do a lot of law come about- Legislators are pressured by their constituents and society as a whole to enact them. As lawstudents, I think we often view laws as the Ultimate Truth- this is because outcomes turn on what the laws say and how they are interpreted. But we shouldn't forget that those laws establishing "justice" and "order" are often merely what the majority of people (or even just a handful of people) think are "just" and may be a far cry from what they should be. (Getting off my To Kill A Mockingbird soap box now).

Admittedly, I do take into consideration the messages society sends me. And, I also have to admit, that while I balk at some social trends and messages at first, many times I learn to accept them and sometimes I even start to agree. But I try to accept those messages and trends only if they mesh with me personally- I won't accept them JUST for the sake of accepting them and JUST because of social pressure. So yeah, I will always be influenced by society, and my internal compass might be "adjusted" in part by social pressure- but I strongly reserve the right to be a free spirit.

I want to be like the kid I used to be. I want to do things regardless of how society views me and do them just because that's who I am. There is always going to be a force within me saying "don't go too far if you want people to take you seriously" but I think it's healthy to know how to get along in your environment and connect with others. Like most of the themes of mommy-lawyer blogs, the key is BALANCE. Be part of your environment. If you want people to take you seriously as a lawyer, then you have to fit into certain social perameters. but you can be an individual at the same time and you don't have to suppress that inner free spirit (unless your inner free spirit tells you to wear skinny jeans or become a card carrying member of a Nazi survivalist group- both are equally heinous). And most importantly, it should be our JOB as lawyers to always scrutinize the laws and norms of our society and challenge the status quo rather than mindlessly accepting them.


je said...

i love this. i so totally achingly agree and remember those days when i had no problem dressing head-to-toe in smashing pumpkins gear, or even before, when i didn't think twice about what i wore or who saw me, i only cared about having fun. life was so much easier and easier to enjoy without *thinking* so much about how everything i said, did or wore came across. and its true about law school being just a different form of the same game. it can be exhausting. it certainly was a bit of a shock to see all my classmates after a summer of forgetting to worry about grades, law review or interviews. anyway. just wanted to say i loved this post. oh, and i think the adam & eve analogy is the best description of this phenomenon i've heard!

日月神教-任我行 said...