Ciro De Siena on Labels

Meet Mike. He’s 4 years old, and is currently learning his ABCs. Soon Mike will go on through the very decent South African education system. He’ll learn much, but he’ll never be asked to question anything. He’ll never be asked to understand or challenge what’s around him.  Meet Sarah. She’s 4 years old, and is currently learning her ABCs. Soon Sarah will begin her school career, under an international system. She will study such disciplines as economic theory and philosophy. Sarah will go onto enquire into everything around her; it’s in her nature now. 

Speed up to 2006, and Mike and Sarah arrive at
Rhodes. Mike will register for a BComm, Sarah for a BA. Mike’s dad always told Mike that a business degree was best if you want to get ahead.
 For the next three years, Mike will wear too much Billabong clothing. He’ll cruise from day to day under the blur of an alcoholic haze. Hell, he might even play some sport. This is what university is all about! 

Suddenly third year will arrive, and the big bad world is just around the corner. He’ll wander through Eden Grove one day, spotting a poster from Large Accounting Firm Pty Ltd, informing him that “Forward thinkers need only apply.” This is it, he’ll think. “Hey, I’m a forward thinker, and there’s so much dosh in chartered accounting.” 

Mike will be employed, get married, have 2.4 children, drive an average size Mercedes Benz and then he’ll die. Back to Sarah. Sarah got stuck into subjects like Philosophy, Politics and Anthropology. Sarah questioned; she sought answers. She never took one facet of her life for granted. It was tough, but she came through it wise, worldly. However, she also came through an Atheist, a liberal, a thinker. 

Sarah will go on to write policy for the government. She might even one day go on to advise the president. At the very least, she’ll write a great book, and make a small difference in at least one person’s life. And now I present my real issue with all of this. It’s not with the South African education system. I have my reservations about that, but that’s another story altogether. My concern is that Sarah, while at varsity, will be labelled a hippie. 

Whenever she tries to raise nagging issues with her friends and family, she will be labelled a lefty. Her family will inform her that when she’s out of university she’ll be normal again. That’s what my family told me. This is undoubtedly one of society’s greatest problems. If you challenge anything, you’re weird. And people don’t like weird people. 

The western world is a capitalist, consumer-driven, Christian ideology-dominated society. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not attacking anyone here, that’s just the truth of it. Most importantly, we’re not meant to question anything. We’re meant to splash out R1000 on a pair of Nikes, not thinking twice about the origins of the product, and where the money goes. We’re meant to think that Islam is a nation of plane-crashing loonies. We’re not meant to question. And the worst thing about all of this is that as soon as you do, you’re instantly a barefoot, dope-smoking, hemp-wearing, tree-hugging, placard-carrying hippie-terrorist out to spoil the party. 

I am none of those things, and yet I question everything. I debate with my dad over his blind Catholic faith, I don’t buy Nestle chocolate and I use herbal toothpaste. And quite frankly I’m tired of the label attached to that. I know that when you’re finished reading this, for most of you, I’ll be one of those journo hippies. And that’s fine.  But if I may request one thing from those around me, try avoid becoming another Mike. The world needs more Sarahs. I’m not asking anyone to drop out of their BComm and strip off their Billabong, and I fully accept that there are narrow-sighted BA-ers just as there are open-minded Bcomm-ers. All I recommend is that we question; that we challenge the concepts defined by those with enormous marketing budgets. Sometimes things really are different to what they seem.


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