Human beings often search for a way to define themselves with society’s definition of normality. Through this, a society creates shared assumptions as to what consists of normal behavior. As a result, the individuals that are part of that society adapt to those qualities of “normality”, and make “normality” the culture of that society. This can be seen in many aspects of culture, such as feminizing or masculinizing different things in society, to creating different roles in society that are considered normal. People in a society becomes so dependent on adapting to the rules that make them normal, that they put on an act that aids in their conformity with “normal “ behavior. This act that we stage throughout our lives affects many aspects of living, such as our identity which is the case of the boys part of the Shaman culture, in Karen Armstrong “Homo Religiosus”. The boys in this society had a role that was considered the norm for them, so whether they really felt like they belonged in that role or not, they put on an act to adapt to that particular role. Putting on an act of following the norms of society can also affect our interactions with people close to us such as our parents which is the case of Andrew Solomon in “Son”, by Andrew Solomon. Here, Solomon is constantly met with backlash from a society that pressures him to adapt to it’s definition of normality. The act that we put up can also shape an entire culture of peoples, which affects the values and behaviors of everyone living in that culture, which is seen in “The Mega Marketing of Depression” by Ethan Watters. In order to satisfy the need of conformity in a society, human beings practice the process of shaping and portraying themselves as “normal” as per their society’s definition of normal, and the only way to overcome this need to “act” is by changing the views of society itself, which promotes the evolution of a culture.
Every culture has its own set of cultural values. This is not limited to simply human beings, but even animals can have their own sort of culture because culture is defined as a set of behaviors that has become the norm for a group of living organisms. In that way, human beings practice culture because we constantly define what is normal. In the case of Andrew Solomon in Son, he defines this process of adapting the same values of a culture as “horizontal identities”. He describes horizontal identities as the same qualities that we share with our parents, and says that these identities are generally accepted and seen more as identities than the “vertical identities”, which is what deviates from the norm (Solomon). Because of this, Solomon is constantly met with pressures to define himself as per society’s definition of normality. For example, Solomon details an event in which he and his mother go to buy balloons. When Solomon insisted he wanted a “pink” balloon, he was met with backlash from his mother and forced to put up an act that satisfied conforming to normal behavior. His mother objected to the fact that Solomon wanted a pink balloon saying “ that [he] didn’t want a pink balloon and reminded [him] that [his] favorite color is blue” (Solomon 374). Solomon then agreed to this statement in order to appease his mother. This is an example of how an individual puts up an act in order to conform to society. Through putting on an act, the individual loses part of his or her own identity, which can be seen here when Solomon accepts that his favorite color is blue, but ultimately it is inevitable to lose part of one’s identity to society’s definitions of normality. These shared concepts of normality among a society develop the culture that an individual is part of. Moreover, we are forced to put up an act that conforms to society’s ideas of normal behavior because when we do not do this, we risk being met with much backlash. For example, from “Son”, Andrew Solomon said that he was constantly picked on by children from his school because he did not share their ideas of what created normal behavior. In addition, anyone else who did not share in society’s assumptions of normal behavior, were also met with backlash. Such as in the case of a few teachers in his school, who were homosexual, like Solomon is. From this, it is clear that individuals need to put on an act of conforming to society’s shared assumptions of normal behavior.Furthermore, in Solomon’s case, he is just speaking of his individual interaction with facing conformity to societal norms. But the process of acting to fit these roles can be seen with a whole section of a society. In the case of Karen Armstrong’s Homo Religiosus, boys who lived in tribes, particularly the Shaman tribes, were forced to conform to the norms of that particular culture. Whether they truly felt this way or not, these boys were pushed and forced to adapt the same ideals that their culture shared, which is basically to fight for their lives to become stronger. If they did anything else, such as finding themselves, which was clearly something that was “western” orientated (Armstrong), the culture they lived in would not tolerate such a behavior. As a result, whether the boys were ready or not, they were forced to “to relinquish the dependency of infancy and assume the burdens of adulthood overnight” (Armstrong 5). Any other act would be seen as a deviation from the behaviors that are assumed to be normal, and would be met with much backlash. This relates to Solomon because in the case of Solomon, he too is met with backlash and displacement from the society that he lives in because of the way his behavior deviates from the norm. Like the shaman boys in “Homo Religiosus”, Solomon’s culture has it’s definition of norms, which Solomon must follow. Arguably, even though these are two vastly different cultures, as Solomon’s culture is more modern than the one in “Homo Religiosus” which is thousands of years old, there are still many similarities. For instance, neither Solomon or the boys could afford to “find themselves” because that would deviate from the norms of society. Instead, both the boys and Solomon are forced to put up an act that would appease and fit society’s shared assumptions of society. This can suggest many things about about how a society develops, if a modern society such as the one Solomon lives in, still portrays the same traits as a society which is thousands of years old. This can suggest the only way to bring about any change is to bring about change in the way people conform to societal norms, which can be seen in “The Mega-Marketing of Depression” by Ethan Watters.
Human beings spend so much of their lives putting on an “act” to satisfy the need for conformity, so much so that it eventually becomes accepted as a norm. This is the case of Japan, where depression is viewed as somewhat of an abnormality, and the fact that depression is not given much attention became so accepted by individuals in that culture, that it became one of the qualities that define Japan. It’s not so much that depression is not accepted, but more or less the fact that it is not understood, and this is due to a lack of attention. Because of that lack of attention depression and the acceptance of this lacking, it became hard for people to agree that such a thing is real, which made it even harder to market drugs that treat depression, the main goal of a company called GlaxoKlineSmith. In fact, none of the “best-selling SSRIs had been launched in Japan” because “the company believed that the Japanese people would not accept the drug. More precisely, they would not want to accept the disease” (Watters 515) The concept that depression is seen as deviating from that particular society’s shared assumptions of norm made it hard for people to “want to take a drug associated with the disease” (515). This is similar to how in “Son”, Solomon talks about how he faced a lot of backlash for his homosexuality, because people, did not want to accept that such a thing exists. In Japan, even if one does have depression, he or she must put up an act to portray his or herself as normal in order to match the definition of normal in Japan, as Solomon had to put on an act and engage in “straight activities”, to fit society’s view of normality which is heterosexuality. However, the concept of not accepting mental illness is a concept that is many years old, and in “The Mega-Marketing of Depression” by Ethan Watters, Watters explains how that concept is changing. However, to change a person would not be enough, you would have to shape the entire “public’s perception about the meaning of depression” (Watters 516). This is because, when people tend to follow the norms of society, and the only way for an individual to change, and become truly accepting, is if it becomes normal in society. This is similar to how in Karen Armstrong’s “Homo Religiosus”, Armstrong talks about how as society developed, the norms that the myths were based on shifted from religion and became more tailored to “farming”, because farming became the norm over hunting, and the rituals that were once part of that society, i.e. the boys having to go through ordeals in a cave, became a thing of the past. There was no longer a need to “act”, because society developed. Through GlaxoKlineSmith, more acceptance of the mental illness developed throughout that society, and more and more people started to shift their views about what the norm is. They did this through advertisements, through marketing, and with the aid of Princess . Most importantly, they used a line “kokoro no kaze”, which meant “‘cold of the soul’” (524), which helped in changing society’s view of the disease. It was arguably the most effective way because it showed that the disease is not a “severe condition…and should carry no social stigma” (524). This is important because an individual in Japan with depression did not want to accept simply because of the social stigma that surrounded depression, that it was “abnormal”. In addition, the phrase “kokoro no kaze” suggested that it is simple to get a treatment for depression, as simple as “buying a cough syrup” (525). This is important because Japan’s cultural attitude towards depression also suggested that treatment for depression was complex and disruptive to life. Doing this enables an individual to not fear the unknown, the unknown being treating depression. Finally, arguably the most important factor as to why the phrase “kokoro no kaze” was so important is because it suggested that the illness was “ubiquitous”, and everyone can suffer from it (525). This is the most important reason because it showed that everyone can suffer, ultimately suggesting that it is something normal within society. As a result, the society of Japan started to evolve because it began to look past the shared assumptions that the culture once held.
In conclusion, human beings put up an act to adhere to the norms that are consistently accepted by society. In doing so, human beings begin to lose a big part of our identity to society. But the reason that society does not accept something as “normal” is due to the lack of understanding in regards to a problem or a concept. When society begins to understand a concept more, they become more accepting of the issue. In order to be more accepting, a culture must look towards “change”. Change is something that is hard to achieve because we must find a “deep and sophisticated understanding of how those beliefs [of society] had taken shape” (Watters 516), and start to “rethink [of] humanity” (Solomon 385) and finally “open ourselves up to it wholeheartedly and allow it to change us” (Armstrong 6). When we open ourselves up to new ideas, and rethink old ideas, we begin to develop and grow as a society, a society where one no longer needs to act in fear of not being accepted.