Lately, I have been thinking about what I call canned responses, which I describe as the most likely or expected response that someone might give when provided with a particular question or statement. For example, if you asked a young child about their opinion on spinach, anchovies, or taking a test, you could probably guess what their response will be (i.e., disgust or frustration in these examples).
My fascination with canned responses stems from my belief that these behaviours are taught to people through various media sources (e.g., movies, TV, and social media) and are not really an honest reflection of an individual’s own unique beliefs, values, or opinions. I recognize that yes, it is perfectly reasonable that somebody could dislike anchovies or sardines, but the fact that so many people (especially in white, western cultures) dislike anchovies appears to indicate that it’s a product of wider cultural programming (i.e., through children’s cartoons), and I feel that this type of indoctrination is influencing people’s opinions on things more broadly than just food preferences.
When I notice people using a canned response, it makes me sad that these individuals feel the need to say what they believe society thinks they ought to say, rather than express their own individual, unique, and valuable opinions. I feel like so many people out there are dumbing down their own ability to respond to questions and statements honestly and truthfully because they feel that what they say needs to fit within a narrow spectrum of options as defined by popular media.
I often think about how improbable our entire existence is; and how lucky we are that a series of random events throughout the history of the universe have resulted in this very moment, and it’s incredibly cool that my life happens to overlap with all the wonderful people around me (as well as ice cream, breakfast cereal, and peanut butter). The chances of any of these things happening are so infinitesimally small that to understand how unlikely my existence is makes everything (yes, literally everything) so much more beautiful and interesting, and I feel that if more people could see the world in this way, they would be much more appreciative of their lives.
If we can apply this same line of thinking elsewhere, we can consider the vast array of diverse thoughts that our minds generate on a day-to-day basis as equally random and potentially very different from the thoughts and experiences of every other person on Earth. Every single one of us is constantly dealing with our own internal monologues, and we express a marginal fraction of those thoughts to the people around us. This selective filtering is beneficial because it helps to keep us from saying things that are going to get us into trouble; however, I feel that we (collectively) should be more open and courageous to share some of our unique thoughts with the people around us.
For example, if every single person out there was having 1000 distinct thoughts per day, I would guess that maybe we are only expressing ten of them to other people in some form or another. These ten thoughts have been filtered based on what we think we should be saying (e.g., what is culturally perceived as interesting or relevant at the given moment) and what is acceptable to say aloud in public. These 10 thoughts only represent 1% of our total thoughts for the day, and I wonder how many interesting, unique, and novel ideas exist within the other 99% of our thoughts that never get expressed because we feel too scared to say something that we are afraid others won’t find interesting.
We need novel and creative ideas to help us solve many of the problems that our society is currently facing — climate change, and capitalism for example, yet in order to address these issues, we need people (everyone) to be more fearless with expressing their thoughts and suggesting new ideas to help guide us to a more sustainable and equitable future.