If any of you have noticed, Visa, the company I have worked for and will work for almost a year has changed its brand for the first time in some long period of years. (Maybe even long than I have been alive.) The long standing tag line of “Visa, it’s everywhere you want to be” is now replaced with “Life Takes Visa”. Their ad campaign was launched with a series of posters showing people about to attempt several challenging feats (i.e. biting into a super sized sandwich, a small child about to lick a metal pole in the winter, a middle aged man smelling the milk before trying it) They link phrases like “Life takes risk”, “Life takes ambition”, “Life takes tradition, luck, exploration, wonder, confidence, respect, determination, talent, risk, joy, help…. from Visa”.

One of the ads starts out with, “What are you waiting for? A written invitation to participate in life?” Sometimes I wonder about this. In capitalistic countries many people see life as a long path with the end being money, riches, fame, and whatever else they see on TV and in the magazines. I feel sometimes like I’m on the Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow to Beijing and I’m looking out the window at all the wonderful country side and people playing in the streets and wonderful structures. You know the end of the line and you are trying to reach it, but then you see these things outside the window and outside the small railroad car you are living in for the next two weeks.

The people outside this window have taken another path, one that better suits them and they appear happy, sad, content, frustrated, and all other ranges of emotion. So you ask me, “Mike, why don’t you get outside and explore?” Well yes, and the corollary to that question is why doesn’t everyone get out there and explore?! Even more so, why do we follow predetermined paths to begin with? If we like it or not we are all conforming to some version of a social norm (even when we try to be ‘different’) according to what we see on TV, read in magazines or online. It’s all part of the culture that shapes us. The way we see the world is only a perception of reality and the preconceived notions we have are all based on outside influence and our personal experiences.

This kind of thinking is what prevents chaos from breaking out in the streets. It allows us to live and work in a predictable and stable manner. An example is that you go to work in morning riding the train because you know the train will be there at the end of the day to bring you home. What if the train was not there? Then you would start bringing a bike to work with you or driving, but what if your car was not there? What if you could not get food near your office? Without the social norms and expectations we would all revert back to hunters and gatherers. We need stability to grow and evolve as a society and as a species.

The problem arises when we believe too much in these social norms. Imagine life as a garden labyrinth: when you are born you can see the entire state of the world but as you get older the garden begins to grown and walls are created (thus the term “walled gardens”) out of the shrubbery. We loose sight of what is real and allow it to be replaced by expectations about how we should act and what we should do. It is ok to maintain these expectations for external events as described above, but this kind of thinking should not be turned inward to control the way we live, work, and love others.