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Don’t let lifestyle politics define who you are

I’ve got an imaginary friend for all of you to meet. His name is Leonard.

Leonard is a 22-year-old guy living in a densely packed city who considers himself to be a “punk rocker.” Leonard wears heavy combat boots with thick black laces, sports a 1970s-era leather rocker jacket, has a Mohawk hairdo dyed jet black and considers himself to be a vital part of the punk rock scene.

He detests any type of music that is not considered to be punk. He is an anarchist who refuses to start a career (‘Cuz anarchists can’t have jobs! Right?). He smokes cigarettes and consumes large amounts of beer (but he ridicules people who abstain from drugs). During the night, he regularly rages around town with his friends while they all harass and ridicule random people on the streets.

One thing is for sure: Leonard has a problem.

But why does Leonard have a problem? It’s not that he is a punk; there’s nothing wrong with being a punk (personally, I enjoy punk rock very much).

While his excessive tobacco and alcohol abuse, his habitual laziness, and the nighttime patrolling and marauding definitely qualify as life problems and reasons for him to rethink his life and join a support group, the true root of this prickly situation is Leonard’s conscious decision to join such a “scene” and to voluntarily allow its doctrine to define and manipulate the happenings of his very own life. Such behavior is also known as a strict adherence to the lifestyle politics of a pre-established social group. It’s an extreme behavior with sometimes dire ramifications.

This is precisely where Leonard is messing up with his life decisions: He is allowing a system of rules, mandates, expectations and social taboos established by other people (with their own personal agendas in mind) to control what he should say, do, think, eat, use, wear and who he should be.

He made the decision to join this group when he was a disillusioned high school student who was looking for a group in which he could experience a feeling of “belonging.” He joined, and he did experience said feelings, but he quite literally neutered his right to free thinking in doing so.

Of course, such fanatical behavior is surreptitiously detrimental to anyone’s methods of thought and behavior no matter which specific social group or set of life guidelines and ideologies to which one chooses to subscribe. In other words: Extremism is bad no matter how you take it.

Leonard, as a result of his induction into his close-knit coterie of anarcho-punks, is now a snub, smug, “punk first, everything else last” kind of person.

He is intolerant, inured against any other ways of thinking, pretentious and self-righteous, and is socially incompatible with most people outside of his circle of friends. But remember, Leonard is in this situation because he is too radical with his thoughts and lifestyle preferences.

However, that is not to say joining any social group makes one bigoted simply by default; pushing it too far does the trick, though.

Leonard’s uptight “I’m way more punk than you are, you capitalist consumer sheep” style of thinking is specified only by the values, norms and taboos of his group of punkers. If Leonard had joined a cluster of fanatical religious holier-than-thous, a pack of aggressive and judgmental jocks, or a bunch of indignant and isolated malcontents (or any one of the many other established social cliques), then he would most definitely adopt that specific social order’s set of rules, guidelines and code of living.

Let’s face it, people: Whenever any one person on this planet agrees to become part of a greater body of humans unified by common interests, friendship or other grounds, he or she (unknowingly or knowingly) conforms in one way or another to that group’s principles and rules.

Because of the aforementioned truths, moderation and careful choice-making are crucial to making good decisions about which life values and principles to adopt in modern society. Social cliques and groups are omnipresent in many aspects of our lives, and all of them try to further their own agendas through recruiting new members, by distributing propaganda and mixed media, and by blatantly or passively asserting their own specific beliefs and values.

The world of human social interaction is quite literally a colossal sea of different groups trying to spread their influence in one way or another. From a quiz team recruiting campaign to outright fascist propaganda, almost every established social group takes on a life of its own in expanding its network of influence.

When joining such a group or organization, make sure to maintain personal individuality within its ranks and keep an open-minded viewpoint toward other ways of life.

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