From Conformity to Autonomy
Without exception, we all began our adult
lives as conformists
—fundamentally the products of particular human cultures.
And we had to become good strong conformists
—people who could cope well with life—
before we could begin to move toward greater self-invention.
To begin the slow process of inner growth toward Authenticity
we needed to mobilize our culturally-given strengths,
building on the best parts of our personalities as already developed
and modifying those dimensions of our selves most in need of reform.
In many ways we will always remain within our
We need not resist convention in mundane matters:
driving on the right side of the street, using the English language,
having a bank account, wearing clothes.
But in our most important life-decisions,
we can become more
self-creating and autonomous
by choosing our own fundamental purposes in life
and inventing our own ways of relating with other people.
1a. Accept (even defend) our given culture or
Every human being has been enculturated to
If a member of our species had grown up without human contact,
it would never have become a person.
Physically it would look like a human being because it would have
the same genetically-given human body as the rest of us,
but if it had never been socialized,
meaningful contact with it would be nearly impossible.
Deterministic psychologists see no alternative
According to them, we are totally
determined by heredity and environment,
differing only because we have been shaped by different determining factors.
We all experience powerful cultural forces,
which, for the most part, do
shape our daily lives.
Existentialism does not challenge the conclusions of the social
Both everyday observation and scientific measurement show
that the vast majority of us are deeply influenced
(even totally conditioned) by our cultural environment.
But the existentialists (and others who
recognize human autonomy)
can point to a few individuals outside the pattern of universal
However, these few self-creating persons do not change the statistics.
So, with respect to most of us, the behaviorists and existentialists
Almost everything we do results from copying other people.
8 BECOMING MORE AUTHENTIC: THE POSITIVE SIDE OF EXISTENTIALISM by
to cite the above page from Becoming More Authentic
Students and scholars are
invited to quote
anything from the above page.
Here is the proper form for the footnote or other reference:
James Park Becoming
The Positive Side of Existentialism
(Minneapolis, MN: www.existentialbooks.com, 2007—5th edition)
to the table of contents for
Authentic: The Positive Side of Existentialism.
September 12, 2008