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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

One Tall Voice: Escape from pointless social conventions

Published: March 6, 2009
Section: Opinions

<i>PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot</i>

PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot

I absolutely, positively, hate social niceties. If there is one thing that I detest most about our modern society, it is the fact that we have to delude ourselves with the presentation of norms, dedicated to presenting ourselves as courteous and pleasant. But these devices only turn us into disingenuous automatons, because we are masking our true selves in order to promote the ideals advanced by our society. I hate rubbing elbows, asking superficial questions, and making small talk in order to get by at a social event. I hate stopping to chat with people I hardly know, or seeing someone utilize an affair for their own selfish gain. I hope, in this article, to launch my protests against this facet of our modern society and perhaps empower you to go out there and brashly and sincerely take on the world.

Social niceties come in all shapes and sizes, as they emerge everywhere in our modern lives. Sometimes it comes with asking, “how are you?” when you actually don’t give a crap and just want to get along with your day. At other times it entails shaking a hand, smiling, and being congenial in front of individuals, even though you may not even like the people with whom you are talking. What you are really doing is being totally insincere and disingenuous. You aren’t portraying your true emotions, but are just fronting what you believe society wants you to present. A person coerced by this societal pressure is nothing more than a mindless dolt, conforming to the wishes of the grand collective. I understand that these niceties are social grease, a way in which we can all be congenial to each other. But something about it seems too insincere, and I must say that I am disgusted by those who seem more interested in presenting themselves as pleasant rather than depicting their true feelings.

I also do not like many social engagements, especially those that involve having what I consider to be “formal” conversations. What is really upsetting about these encounters is that they seem to be nothing more than an “ego-battleground,” a place where people try to talk as much as they can, mostly about themselves. Really, I believe that most people perceive these engagements as a game. In this maniacal competition people get points for talking the most and get double the amount if they are able to inject themselves into the conversation. Now, I have already conveyed my sympathies with Objectivist tenets, and think there is nothing wrong with putting your self at the center of your endeavors in life. But this does not include mindlessly rambling about your personal exploits so much that others neither care about nor really want to hear. I also hate the phoniness that comes with superficial conversations at these gatherings. “Ice,” for instance, needs to be broken if meeting someone new, and it seems that one is having the identical conversation with a countless number of other guests. Now, I have been told that I have “the gift of gab,” but that doesn’t mean I don’t detest the phoniness I am forced to convey.

What is extremely interesting is that my imminent graduation is making me adhere less and less to these petty social constructions. I know that I will not see many of the people I interact with daily ever again, and this has affected the way I act. If I don’t like someone, and they inquire about my opinion of them, I’ll straight out tell them my negative sentiments. If I truly adore someone, I’ll likewise freely convey my beliefs. I am becoming less and less phony, and people have looked down upon me for my brutish “tell-it-like-it-is” attitude. Yet, for the first time in my life I am acting sincerely and it is quite heartening to finally become the person I have always wanted to be.

This article (and I guess many of the pieces I have written for the Hoot) probably portrays me as a true misanthrope, a cynic turned sour after years of “people-watching.” Yet, I do like a lot of people and take pleasure at many of the social engagements that I attend. It’s those formal, unnatural gatherings that really repulse me, as I know that most individuals there are putting on airs and not conveying their true selves. I want to make you more aware of the phoniness, more conscious of the social constructions under which we operate. I invite you to break through these social conventions and sincerely convey the person that you truly are.