Monday, October 5, 2009

The Road Less Traveled

Have you ever taken the road less traveled? I like to think I have. I like to think that I've been making my decisions based on that which will make my life fulfilled and being me satisfaction as well as do the same for others. However, I know this is not always the case.

The obvious reference my title makes is to Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken but I won't be referencing it any more than that. I think a more appropriate reference for this post is Emerson's Self-Reliance and Thoreau's Walden. Both of these works talk about the necessity to be free in one's thoughts and subsequent actions. Emerson incites his readers to become non-conformist. He says that conformity kills independent thought (it most certainly does). Take a look at a child. Do children care what society tells them? When was the last time a little girl cared about what people thought of her wearing a Snow White dress to the store? How many little boys pretend to be a Ninja Turtle or Spiderman while they are jumping off the garage roof? Kids don't care what other people think. Why do adults care? Conformity. We want to be accepted into society. Why not be a non-conformist? Why not become an art-history major with an emphasis on Victorian era portraiture? Why not think outside the box? I think we are afraid to think outside the box. I think we are afraid to swim upstream or even across the stream. Why don't we get out of the stream altogether?

By stifling independent thought we slowly kill our inner freedom. Why don't we have great thinkers today? Because "whoso would be a man would be a non-conformist". I.e. Whoever wants to be their own person must think outside the box of conformity. But conformity means comfort in today's society. And so we kill independent thought in ourselves and therefore our freedom of thought and expression. We also destroy our happiness.

In Walden Thoreau talks about how he is happy living a simple life. He lives in a cabin on a pond and only works 6 weeks a year in order to survive the whole year. The cabin has only enough in it to keep him alive and comfortable. His happiness is not in his material goods but in himself and in his freedom. If he needs to permanently leave his cabin he can do so because he has little attachment to it. He owes no money on it, it is not filled with priceless goods or high priced goods, and it is only a place that provides him shelter. It is not something that ties him down. It is also not a source of complexity in his life. He has very little in his "home" that requires upkeep and very little that requires his time. He is free to explore his own happiness. We, Americans in particular, are tied to our possessions. We are tied to our houses, our stuff, our jobs. Where has our freedom gone? We have conformed to a standard that is not of our choosing.

The road less traveled becomes the road never traveled and eventually not a road at all...


  1. Hey Dave...I think I've talked about this with you, but I was intrigued by your use of Frost's "Road Not Taken" in this post. I say that, because I think, from reading the poem, Frost makes it clear that in regards to the two roads, "the passing there had worn them really about the same." How can one road be less traveled when they are worn the same? For that reason, I think Frost's point is not that one road is less traveled than the other, and that we should choose the less traveled road, but that few choose to travel any road at all, since both roads appear to be "grassy and wanted wear." And yet even though Frost made the bold choice to choose a road and travel it, he is "telling this with a sigh" that his choice of one road over the other "has made all the difference." Why a sigh? Perhaps because Frost is suggesting that there really is no "difference."

    I do agree with you that conformity is an issue in modern society. And yet, the attempt at non-conformity has become conformist in and of itself. In fact, (I'm sure you would expect this from me, but I don't really care), I think the most incisive repute of any attempt at nonconformity is this: "That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun." Try as we might, we cannot be non-conformists, or conformists, without conforming to that which has already been, and that which will be.