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February 24, 2013

Challenge Convention… What does that mean?

Challenge Convention, Change our world.

Ah, yes, we’ve all heard it. You’ve probably had your fair share of it being tossed around in our mailers, in our flyers, in seriouslyanythingit’severywhere. But really, what does it mean? I think it can mean a lot to a lot of people. And reflecting on it recently, I think I understood it a bit more.

First, I think it defines the Clark experience, and that’s how I understood it when I came to visit my first time. We don’t have fraternities or sororities. We’re not a party school here. I don’t mean to connect the two — I know a lot of frats do amazing volunteer work – but Clark has that giving back attitude without them. But I think you — a lot of people — go through the typical college experience of… well, either all partying or all studying. But Clark isn’t either of that. And it’s definitely not any kind of college movie put out by Hollywood. It’s an experience of giving — giving your opinion in discussions, giving your time at the Worcester Earn-A-Bike, giving your time into clubs you wouldn’t have normally given a chance, and giving back to the friends who keep you sane.

Or giving them a hint when they can’t figure out they’re Stitch from Lilo and Stitch.

But more recently, I think I went beyond that normal pitch. My idol of an advisor, Dr. Jaan Valsiner, (I’ve only mentioned him here, here, and  here) talks a lot about challenging conventions in cultural psychology, because the discipline itself is one of the biggest challenges of convention possible.

  • In CP, we don’t look for a large population of people — we look for one person. We’re all so different, why do we attempt to bring us all together?
  • In CP, we don’t look for the mean average — we look to the extremes. It’s more important to see the strange cases than the middle. We know the middle. But how the extremes appear is much more meaningful.
  • In CP, we don’t look at numbers — we look at words. How can a “seven” on a scale of 1-10 express my happiness any more precise than saying I’ve felt happy today? Am I always a seven? What about when I am mad? How can I remember what I felt a week ago? How is my seven similar to your seven?
  • In CP, we don’t look at cultures. We look at experiences, and how these experiences challenge convention and change through time among many people and are experienced in many ways.

Well, that’s all well and good Kevin — but how does that make Jaan challenge convention?

The small lecture hall (That is Sackler 120) was not even close to full – but people sat on the floor. More so, Jaan hates the podium. He talks about how it’s a boundary between him and his students, the students unbounded by rules and guidelines and responsibilities. He challenges our core beliefs and promotes discussion on what we do what we do — why the cultural framework we have created dictates the presence of a mirror, why we embrace monogamy versus polygyny, why we promote imitation instead of novelty, all to challenge the conventional ideas that we’re presented with.

High school you’re taught to say yes. College you’re given the means and opportunity to say no. No to convention. No to accepting something because “that’s how it is.” No to the standards, the usuals, the “way it is and the way it should be.” And that’s what Clark does. It challenges the yes to change into a no.

How do you challenge convention? How will you change our world?

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