The invisible scripts that guide our lives
October 18th, 2010 - 213 Comments
I don’t usually watch Bollywood movies, but when your Indian mom asks you to do something — including watching a movie (matinee of course), getting the mail from the mailbox, or buying her a car — you do it. Anyone with an Asian/Indian mother is nodding right now, fearful of the earth-shattering guilt trips that mothers have relentlessly honed over decades of surgical use and rigorous testing — and deservedly so.
Anyway, as I was watching this Indian movie, I started realizing how many invisible assumptions it revealed about Indian culture. And then I took a step back and thought about the American movies I watch all the time…movies that also reveal a tremendous amount about our own culture. These invisible scripts are so deeply embedded that we don’t even realize they guide our attitudes and behaviors.
For example, would a fish know he’s swimming in water?
Do Americans realize how many of their beliefs are pre-written by our societal values?
For instance, in Indian culture, parents will sacrifice virtually everything for their son to succeed. In the movie, the poor parents have one air conditioning unit, which they give to their son while he studies. (He goes on to a top technical college and is able to support them.)
Also in the movie, young Indian men put aside their “passions” for a stable job, which they can use to support their families. They have little interaction with women before marriage. Anything non-engineering/medical is looked down upon. And so on.
We all nod, saying “Ah yes, those passion-less Indian automatons” — until we look at ourselves.
What are the invisible scripts that govern our lives?
Would you even be able to identify them?
MYTH: “I don’t have any money…so I can’t go to college”
I’ve recently started watching this awesome show, Friday Night Lights. For someone who hates sports, doesn’t even know what sports season it is, and STILL does not understand how football is scored, I am impressed with myself for watching this show.
Anyway, it depicts a small Texas town and its love of football, blah blah blah. True to form, I ignore the football parts and focus on analyzing the meta-messages. I know, I am really fun at parties.
Friday Night Lights explained a lot of things that have puzzled me about American culture. For example, in one episode, the dad spends his daughter’s college money, prompting her to say, “Now I can’t go to college!”
I was confused. Huh? You don’t have money saved, so you can’t afford college? What?
Unfortunately, this is what most Americans believe: that if you don’t have money, you can’t go to college. This belief is reflected in our culture (TV shows), our educational system (high-school counselors), and even our businesses (banks that promote 529s with fear tactics).
Of course, it’s simply not true. If you don’t have money, you can still go to college. My family didn’t have any money, and I went to one of the top universities in the country via scholarships (how I won $100,000+ of scholarships). But even if I hadn’t done that, there were still MANY options:
- Student loans (no, they are not uniformly evil, despite what everybody says)
- Work-study/part-time job, etc
In fact, the cultural script of “No money = no college” is even more absurd when you actually know how college admissions and financial aid work. If you are poor — but you’re skilled enough to get admissions — most top universities will pay for your entire education. This is why you should apply to the best universities you can, regardless of money.
Yet Friday Night Lights reflects our cultural values, which are so deep-seated that we don’t even blink. No money = no college. Of course!
But that’s just an assumption — like so many of the invisible scripts that guide our lives.
What are 3 invisible scripts that guide you?
Do you see the invisible scripts that guide our lives?
Here are some others:
- “I should follow my passions”
- “I should hook up with a lot of people before I settle down”
- “I work hard, so I deserve this nice apartment”
- “My kids should take care of themselves after they graduate from college”
- “Where did you go on vacation this year?”
Each of those is a uniquely American idea. Many other cultures would laugh, ridicule, and be utterly confused by those statements. Yet they’re so deeply embedded in our culture that we don’t even notice that they’re assumptions.
What are the top 3 invisible scripts that have influenced you?
(Hint: If you can’t think of any…answer this: What are the top 3 invisible scripts that have influenced your friends?)
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