Perhaps as a result of growing up in a progressive household, with a father who encouraged his daughters to pursue free thought and education, and a mother who never treated marriage as the ultimate achievement we should aspire to, I grew up questioning a lot of the social mores and customs that inform our society and culture. Because that is how it has always been was an answer I had never learned to accept, and my pursuit of higher education in History only further instilled in me an awareness of the detrimental effects of the herd mentality when it came to being agents of positive change.
One of the primary characteristics of the herd mentality is this faulty notion that change is an external force that exists outside of ourselves. For example, I was once in a heated debate with members of my family about how unreasonable it is that young women are held to much stricter conducts of safety and “appropriate” behavior than young men. I argued that instead of constantly restricting female mobility, we as a society should be working on training our males to be more respectful and a lot less entitled, so that safety for girls is no longer an issue. After much back and forth, counter-arguments against my point would always come back to: But that is how society is, we can’t change society.
I always remember this instance with extreme clarity because it served as one of my earliest intellectual epiphanies about why change is such a slow and arduous process in our society. It is because our society members have constructed this notion of society as some kind of organism which exists independent of those living within it. The argument “we cannot change society” is, politely speaking, an excuse that helps us shirk our responsibility as individuals who can affect change because, when it comes to subverting age-old social structures, it is easier to treat ourselves as though we exist as mere tethers to society, as opposed to active agents within its structure.
This mentality is one of the biggest hindrances to being agents of positive social change. What is known colloquially as “the ripple effect” is a double edged sword. The side which causes damage is the aforementioned herd mentality where we let outdated stereotypes, archaic mentalities, and dangerous philosophies exist because we detach ourselves from society instead of seeing ourselves as an integral part of it.
On the other hand, this sword comes with the power to heal. By recognizing that every single individual has an equally advantageous – or detrimental – role to play within our social structure, we can become agents of positive social change. This can be as simple as refusing to participate in a joke which stereotypes another community, or a more global act such as participating in a campaign to end violence against women. When we recognize how much of an impact we can have as individuals, we empower ourselves; and when we empower ourselves, we create the ultimate ripple effect: a wave of positive change, progress, and revolution which resonates beyond borders.
One of the most inspirational quotes I have comes across is an adage by Socrates which states, “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on creating the new.” And the new can only be created when we harness our communal strength to disagree when someone tells us: But that is just how society is.