Dana Al-Rashid

Are we really, and I mean truly, free? Are we able to shape our lives as we wish – as long as it does not violate the law – or are we forever burdened by societal expectations? Our personal choices are often judged, scrutinized and even limited by “the social norm”, even if those choices are deemed harmless to others.

We all face social conditioning from early childhood. In our teenage years, we start to experiment with individuality and self-expression. We begin to realize that any different outfit or unique haircut could either get you positive attention, or turn you into a laughing stock, depending how you pull it off!

But what is truly fascinating is that individual thinking, more than anything, is what can really classify you as a “weirdo”! Your only consolation would be to either create or join a community of like-minded individuals, or live as a hermit. As for your last resort, it would be to suppress those strange thoughts – or your individuality – and adopt the common way of thinking and living, at the price of your inner voice.

Individuality has a dear price that not many are willing to pay; therefore most people choose the easier path. And why not?! It’s a friction-free life where one is easily accepted, only as long as they follow popular behaviors and views, regardless of how true or how suitable they are to the follower.

In a conservative and closely-knit culture like ours, there are many social expectations for us in store – but often very hard to fulfill. For example, there are pressures to choose a certain major in college, followed by expectations of when and where to work. There is also a lot of intervening in deciding which life partner to choose, and when one should get married – if ever. It does not stop here; societal intrusion reaches as far as to your choice of having children. Blatant questions such as “When are you having children?” and “Why don’t you have more kids?” are asked with no consideration of the person’s privacy or personal preference.

As for women, there are endless social expectations and limitations on how to look and behave. Not owning a luxury brand bag or shoes is enough of a reason to shun a woman in the local female society. It seems that these kinds of intrusive questions, pressures and suggestions are here to stay, no matter how personal the matter at hand. People need to develop quite a thick skin to be able to still choose to live the way they want despite these all-too-familiar voices.

Perhaps there are good intentions behind all these questions and unsolicited advice, but how far will we allow ourselves to decide for others how to go on about their lives? And why do we ostracize anyone who is even slightly different than us? But most importantly – how far are we willing to compromise our constitutionally-given freedoms to please others? This is a question definitely worth pondering.

By Dana Al-Rashid

This article was published on 18/05/2017