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Defying Social Norms for Social Change

11 Jan

Defying Social Norms for Social Change

Posted By: 
Kaitlyn Guay

Riddle me this: What is “normal?”

Whoa. Heavy question. And the answer usually depends on the individual’s upbringing. If your family all went to college, married young, had 2.5 children, and bought a house with a white picket fence, that may be what you picture as the trajectory of a “normal” life. If your neighborhood all believed that a sparrow defecating on your head was a sign of luck, you would likely be inclined to thank said sparrow for blessing you with his offering. If everyone around you goes to a traditional school system, that may also be considered “normal.” So what of the people for whom “normal” isn’t synonymous with “best?”

Social norms are relative to many things: family, society, media, location, and culture. It can’t really be defined, and yet, so many young students spend their formative years fighting it-- not to be considered normal, per se, but rather, to fit in. Here’s the cool part: with the world expanding through social media and the interconnectivity of the web, what is “normal” is no longer the only option for students looking to change their lives, or make an impact in society.

Take Lihn Do. Lihn is a nineteen-year-old from Australia. At fifteen, she embarked upon her first campaign for social change called “Change a Million Lightbulbs.” Its sole purpose was converting incandescent light bulbs to fluorescent. She succeeded, and wound up changing some energy laws in the process.

Lihn said in her TED-x talk: “One of the reasons I could do this so young was because I didn’t really, I guess, fall into this belief that you need some sort of a qualification to create social change… No one expected that of me. No one expected I would do it the way that I did, which was primarily through online networks, word of mouth, and things like that.”

She raises an interesting point. The younger you are, the more confusing it can be to discover who you are and how you fit in the world. However, being a student is also the time when you’re most likely to engage in free-thinking behaviors. To question. To wonder why the path set before you is laid out as it is. To decide if YOU think there’s a better way.

“We haven’t gotten into the point where we think we need to conform to what society expects of us… We don’t think that we need to have done A,B, and C in order to get to D. We can get from A to D through other means.”

The purpose of Lihn Do’s talk is to discuss how rejecting social norms and embracing the free-thinking of youth is the best way to create social change. She is an example for young people who don’t want the world to run “business-as-usual.” They don’t fit inside a bubble on a standardized test. They want to make their own way in the world, foraged with grit, gumption, and a whole lot of curiosity.

“If we don’t change the ways that we are, if we just conform to everything that people expect of us and the like, then nothing in society will change, because we’ll be the same.”