Since the day you were born, you’ve been conditioned to think in certain ways.
It might seem like you’ve been free to choose your own attitudes and ideas, but for most people, this isn’t really the case.
You see, in any society, there is a status quo — a current standard of the most popular ways of doing, thinking, and living.
The status quo begins working on you from an early age, molding the way you see the world. Even if your parents understand this and are anti-status quo, they still can’t protect you from its far-reaching influence.
This leads to the vast majority of people walking around with similar mentalities. Often times, these mentalities are antiquated, limiting, and downright absurd.
How the Status Quo Conditions You
All of us are born into already-established societies with countless pre-existing conditions over which we have absolutely no control.
The conditions of a society may be beneficial for the general population or they may be entirely harmful.
In the case of the United States, capitalism and the desire for wealth have historically driven many of the societal conditions and mentalities of the general population.
Think about that for a second. Greed has been one of the most powerful forces in determining how people think and act in this country.
Rather than compassion, kindness, and understanding, the primary engine of our nation’s development has been the accumulation of material objects.
The result of this can be plainly seen in any city in the country — people working, working, and working some more in pursuit of nicer clothes, a sexier ride, a bigger home, and a more lavish lifestyle.
And greed is only one example. The status quo penetrates deeply into all aspects of our lives, often with dire results.
Why do most of us fall in line with status quo ideals?
Because we see them everywhere! They’re blasting from the radio speakers, flashing on the TV screens, and being acted out by almost everyone around us.
The status quo, by definition, is extremely pervasive. Often times, we don’t even recognize that there are other ways of doing things because the status quo is all we’ve ever noticed.
Plus, it’s so darn easy to assimilate. All of us, by nature, want very badly to fit in and to be admired by our peers. The human brain is evolutionarily wired to resist behavior that risks alienation.
Breaking away from the tribe used to mean danger and death. So we quickly and unthinkingly submit to what is popular, instead of considering how doing so may have fatal consequences.
How the Status Quo is Perpetuated
You might be wondering, “If the status quo causes so much damage, why wouldn’t the leaders and thinkers in society change it for the better over time?”
A great question. The answer is that many try very hard to do so. Activists of all shapes and sizes are constantly trying to change things for the better. I’m doing so right now by writing this article.
But there’s a really big problem — namely, the enormous collection of people who want things to stay precisely the way they are.
Perhaps the most dangerous of these people are the ones in power. In our society, “those in power” is nearly synonymous with “those with most of the money”.
You see, the status quo is always benefitting someone. Countless people leverage the status quo every day to turn a profit, and those people don’t want things to change.
So they buy out politicians, impose their messages upon products of popular culture (TV shows, songs, movies, etc.), and throw billions of dollars into advertising campaigns to keep you thinking in the way that profits them.
Apart from those who leverage the status quo for insane amounts of status, wealth, and power, there is another group that wants the status quo to be perpetuated as well — the mob (i.e. the vast majority of the population).
Look around. Do you see them? They’re everywhere. They’re your classmates, colleagues, neighbors, and fellow church-goers.
The status quo wouldn’t be the status quo if most people didn’t support it. The mob isn’t inherently evil. Unlike those in power who often have poisonous intentions, members of the mob usually don’t realize that they love the status quo.
Still, their actions and mentalities have insidious, coercive effects. This is, again, because of our evolutionary predisposition to want to assimilate with what we see our friends and peers doing.
We’re wired to think this: If most people believe something, it’s likely to be the truth. If most people do something, it’s likely to be the best way of doing it.
So everyone around us who is acting out the status quo becomes a covert agent. If only subconsciously, you are being pressured constantly by everyone around you to conform to the ‘normal’ state of affairs.
And this causes problems. Because most people do conform, and the status quo carries on. Think of it as an enormous, self-sustaining beast possessing a complete indifference to how living the status quo might be harming a lot of people.
3 Status Quo Mentalities That Lead to Discontent
So now that you have a basic understanding of what the status quo is and how it is unceasingly being reinforced, I want to give you three examples of harmful status quo mentalities.
Here are 3 status quo ways of thinking that tend to stir up frustration and dissatisfaction throughout the general population.
Mentality #1: If someone is challenging your viewpoint, they’re wrong and you should react in a hostile manner.
When it comes to argumentation over any particular issue of disagreement, our society tends to believe that there is a right answer and a wrong answer.
Our school system tends to reinforce this way of thinking as well, but it is quite problematic. This is because most everyone tends to think that their opinion is correct, and so if someone disagrees with them, that person must be wrong.
And then we’re shown all of these messages in the media — on news programs, “reality” TV, and in pop music — that display individuals reacting hostilely to those who don’t agree with them.
So the status quo mentality becomes this: If someone disagrees with me, they’re wrong. F%$# them.
We see this way of thinking leading to troubling incidents nationwide all the time, on the micro and macro level — think bar fights, domestic disputes, petty obstinance leading to stalemates in Congress, etc.
Perhaps worse yet is the fact that this attitude leads to a general population that is hardly willing to revise their views about anything.
This is absolutely the opposite of the type of mentality that serves the cause of progress. A progressive individual recognizes that there are multiple ways to view any issue, and that there is almost never a cut-and-dry right or wrong answer.
Furthermore, when you react hostilely to those who disagree with you, you’re allowing anger to reside within. And, as I’ve explained before, anger most harms those who possess it.
How to break out of it: Recognize that almost no issue is black-and-white. If someone disagrees with you, approach their opinion with an open mind. View it as a learning opportunity for both. Engage in a calm, rational discussion touching upon each party’s primary reasons for holding their view. Come to a consensus, or agree to disagree. Angry outbursts are avoided, and both parties walk away respecting one another and possessing a more complete understanding of the issue at hand.
Mentality #2: You should do something that you don’t enjoy now to do what you do enjoy later.
This is essentially the model on which this country has operated for 150 years: You will get a job and work for 40 years, so that one day you can retire and do whatever you want. And it will be just dandy!
It’s incredible how many individuals still buy into this type of thinking. Countless people are working jobs that they despise. Tons of students are majoring in something ‘safe’ and hating every second of it.
People cling to routines that leave them feeling depressed and empty because a) they’re afraid to try something new, b) they’re imagining a day when things will just magically get better, and/or c) they don’t necessarily realize they have other options.
But you do! I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, because I firmly believe this. We live in a world with much more opportunity than ever before.
You have never had such freedom to pursue the interests that excite you and to do work that you’re passionate about. It might be a bit more risky or take a little more effort to put yourself in the situation to do so, but it will be rewarding to put in that effort if you care about what you’re working towards.
How to break out of it: Take a hard look at your current schedule/time commitments. How many of them do you actually enjoy? How many of them are allowing you to build skills relevant to your passion? If your answer is none, that’s okay. Everyone has to start somewhere. Slowly, do what you have to do to quit the time commitments that are draining you or to change them in a positive way. If you don’t know what you enjoy or are passionate about, experiment! Overbook yourself; try numerous, diverse things. You’ll discover areas of interest that you never would have guessed. Pursue those areas. You won’t regret it. Work can be play.
Mentality #3: If someone doesn’t conform to what most people consider ‘normal’, they’re weird and are to be shunned.
The status quo is all about upholding what is considered to be ‘normal’. Most everyone’s minds are filled with these notions of how a ‘normal’ person looks, acts, thinks, talks, etc.
People put ‘normal’ on a pedestal for the same reason that the mob loves the status quo: They crave acceptance. Most people cherish the existence of what is ‘normal’ because being ‘normal’ seems like a surefire way to fit in.
But when ‘normal’ becomes the goal, then anything that violates ‘normal’ often becomes the enemy.
This leads to judgment, gossip, and bullying. It inspires alienation, labeling, and name-calling. It causes hate crimes, school shootings, and suicides. People can be infinitely cruel to that which defies their expectation for what is ‘normal’.
And again, the people who are intolerant on behalf of what is ‘normal’ aren’t doing themselves any favors. Holding hateful feelings within is simply giving another person the power to push you to a negative mood/mental state.
Here’s the truth: The idea that normalcy could actually exist is ass-backwards in the first place. There is no such thing as ‘normal’. We’re all strange, quirky, and abnormal in so many ways, and it is not a bad thing.
Our strangeness and our difference are what make us individuals. They’re a part of our humanity. Humanity is diversity. The sooner we recognize this, the sooner we can put an end to all of the evil deeds committed on behalf of ‘normal’.
How to break out of it: Embrace diversity. Learn to celebrate the differences in people. Go out of your way to make friends of all backgrounds, lifestyles, and nationalities. Become more aware of your judgments of other people’s appearances, and actively resist making those judgments. This takes time and practice, but I urge you to work at it — it’s some of the most important work you can do to make the world a better place. (For more, read this post I wrote — “Embracing Diversity: The Key to a Peaceful World”.)
Final Thoughts: How to Beat The Status Quo
As I’ve stressed in this post, the status quo is all around us all the time. Sometimes it can be difficult to notice because we’re so caught up in it.
Let this post be a wake-up call. Start paying more attention. Hopefully, the examples I listed have given you an idea of the types of problems that are caused by status quo mentalities.
The best thing that we can do to oppose the status quo is this:
Learn to recognize it as often as possible and actively resist the urge to mindlessly support it.
I stress the word “mindlessly” because I don’t think the status quo is always a bad thing. In many cases, the status quo isn’t harming anyone.
However, in some cases, as I hope I’ve demonstrated, the status quo can be among the most devious of villains. The point is to become aware of why you think and act the way you do and how your thoughts and actions are affecting your life and the lives of other people, for better or worse.
You should consider these things often and try to arrive at your own conclusions about how to live, think, and act. You might find this to be quite liberating. Often, we aren’t aware of the shackles of the status quo until we experience the freedom of casting them off.
So what do you say? Are you with me? Let’s do our part to shift the status quo. Let’s band together to challenge the norms that lead to unnecessary suffering. Let’s pass on a better world to our children’s generation.
I believe in this mission and fight for it every day. Will you?
“I hate a Roman named Status Quo!” he said to me. “Stuff your eyes with wonder,” he said, “live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories. Ask no guarantees, ask for no security, there never was such an animal. And if there were, it would be related to the great sloth which hangs upside down in a tree all day every day, sleeping its life away. To hell with that,” he said, “shake the tree and knock the great sloth down on his ass.”
― Ray Bradbury
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jordan Bates
Jordan Bates is the creator of Refine The Mind and an English teacher in Busan, South Korea. He earned a BA in English Literature with minors in Philosophy & Spanish at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Read the story of Refine The Mind and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.