Wednesday, January 14, 2009

My "Cornpone Opinion" on "The Ophelia Syndrome"

My ‘Corn-Pone Opinion’ on ‘The Ophelia Syndrome’

Bear with me… I'm killing two birds with one stone here... I'm writing an essay for my ethics class, and writing a blog for my amazing friends to read about two articles that I actually quite enjoyed. In class we're discuss individuality and the effect that our surroundings affects/controls our personalities. The two articles that we were assigned are 'Corn-Pone Opinions' by Mark Twain, and 'The Ophelia Syndrome' by Thomas G. Plummer; both of which address the issue of individuality, or lack thereof. To start things of I'll provide a brief summary of each article, and then I'll give my two-cents worth.
I'm sad to say that Mark Twain's view on the situation is rather depressing and hopeless. He seems to be of the opinion that no one is innocent and that there isn’t any hope for any of us. I'm even more sad to say that he may be right. He starts his article by sharing an interesting quote from a black friend he had as a child, his friend said: "You tell me whar a man gits his corn-pone, en I'll tell you what his 'pinions is." Meaning that if you know where I live and the people I live with, you know what I think. To support his claim Twain accuses religion, fashion, etiquette rules, standards, politics, etc… of being nothing more than fads. He states, very dismally, that people do not think, or reason, they only feel. The reason this bothers me so much is that I see his point manifesting itself all around me... sometimes within me. How many people do you know that are Republican because their dad was/is Republican? How many people do you know that voted for Obama because the media told us he was 'cooler?' How many friends do you have, that won’t wear white after Labor Day?
I'm interested in pointing out, though, that it's not always a bad thing... conforming is not always a negative action. Just because girls are allowed wear pants, and people shop at Abercrombie, does not mean that society has devolved. It is sad however, that where we are has such a major impact on who we are.

Naturally, once accused of being, in essence, mindless almost all of us will refuse to accept it. We will deny ever making a choice simply because somebody else made it first. We will passionately call Mr. Twain a liar when he tells us that we have not weighed all the options, reasoned the pros and cons, and truly decided exactly how we feel about something and why. We’re all individuals! Right? Sadly, a closer look might reveal otherwise.

The second article ‘The Ophelia Syndrome’ is quite a bit more optimistic. After offering some interesting script analysis on Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ Mr. Plummer compares us, or at least Mark Twain’s version of us, to Ophelia; a young person who “knows not what to think.” He then draws a parallel between the media and authority figures to Polonius who answers: "I'll teach you [what to think]. Think yourself a baby." He warns us of what he calls ‘The Ophelia Syndrome’ and gives us several tools that will help us to think for ourselves.

This article is actually one of the best pieces I’ve ever read. It is sound advice, it rings true, and it has hope for the future. Mr. Plummer believes that we actually have the potential to think for ourselves. (Exciting isn’t it?) Although he reminds that escaping the clutches of conformity will require a certain amount of effort. Plummer quotes a S. I. Hayakawa who said something that is very interesting:

What Does It Mean to Be Creative? Most people don't know the answer to the question, "How are you? How do you feel?" The reason why they don't know is that they are so busy feeling what they are supposed to feel, thinking what they are supposed to think, that they never get down to examining their own deepest feelings.

It’s sad, but true. Thanks to Plummer I now know the ways to avoid falling into the category of ‘most people.’ And lucky for you, if you continue reading, you will too. Plummer’s steps (drastically paraphrased) are: 1. Seek out learning from great teachers. They’re great for a reason, and they will often teach you things more valuable than the course material. 2. Dare to know and trust yourself. Write in a journal, write letters, record your thoughts and your dreams. 3. Live with uncertainty. Don’t demand to know every answer to every question. It’s ok to imagine, and wonder. 4. Practice dialectical thinking. Check out another point of view, and try arguing with yourself. 5. Foster idle thinking. It takes time, but allowing your mind to relax and wander can often lead to some very profound and original thinking. 6. Plan to step out of bounds. This step is my personal favorite, and is the reason that I’m doing this assignment as a blog. It doesn’t mean to break the laws and be destructive, but it does mean to think outside the box and mix things up a bit.

So those are the steps to take to avoid being a mindless sheep. Cool stuff isn’t it? I appreciate that someone took the time to do more than say “Think for yourself.” Plummer actually says “Here’s how to think for yourself.” Which is a lot more useful than Mark Twain saying “You don’t think for yourself… in fact, you don’t think at all.”

So here’s to individuality, originality, and not being sheep. If you get the time, check out those articles, and drop me a line about what you think. Plummer mentioned that one of the best ways to see things from another view is to hear it from your peers. So by all means peers… lay those other views on me. And thanks for reading.



Tamari said...

I had a professor in college who taught theater history and he was amazing! He taught us to question everything we researched for our term papers. He taught us to read all we could from different angles and then he allowed us to come to our own conclusion and have our own opinion on all the "facts" we had gathered.

I had never felt so free and empowered. Most teachers wanted me to learn the facts in the book and regurgitate those facts. This teacher was having me use MY mind and come to MY own conclusion. I will never forget him, what he taught me in that class has helped me in life more than anything.

Cool post! Thanks!!

Aelysium said...

I haven't read the articles yet, just your essay; but I happened upon a manifestation of the 'corn pone' phenomenon just this morning, when I opened up my email. It always amazes me how many people send on emails filled with misinformation and inflammatory 'facts'. It seems as though they are willing to believe (and send on) anything that shows up in their inboxes. If somebody wrote it down, and maybe even quoted a specific source, then it must be true, right? Maybe you should research these things for yourself, people! (Do I sound bitter? It's just that I hate forwards.)
Anyway. Great post, and I might have something of substance to contribute after I actually read the articles. :D