Like It or Not

Like It or Not

In the book titled, "A Hope in the Unseen: An American Odyssey", by Ron Suskind, one of the major issues is the fact that people mold themselves into what everyone else wants of them, and they become the same. They hide their abilities in order to fit in, to avoid isolation. They become what they are told, because they know no different. Some say it's better for everyone to be the same, to avoid conflict or clashing of opinion. However, going against the tide or, as Cedric Jennings would put it, having "something to push against", is the only reason people make it in life. I don't believe it's right to become someone you're not just so people will like you. After all, "Imitation is suicide."

Phillip Atkins is one of the major examples. A nerd in middle school and a classmate of Cedric's in high school, he's smart and could've really excelled in life, but, because of a traumatic incident that occurred in middle school, he changed his entire image, and simply became another face in the hopeless crowd of Ballou. He became a class clown in high school, and concealed his genius mind. He put up a tough guy front and became just like all the other students at Ballou High School to avoid being picked on. He became a hypocrite. The irony in this is the fact that the only reason he changed in the first place was to get people to like him as to avoid violence, but that's the only thing anyone at Ballou is interested in. Although he did act in his true nature at home, no one ever saw his real self at school. In the end, he became a mailroom worker who had given up on his dreams. He died inside.

Cedric Jennings, the main character in this book, is the only one who doesn't change for anyone. He was brought up by faith, he had a crook, drug-selling father, a horrible childhood, and a violent and intimidating neighborhood to push against. Everyone told him that he wouldn't make it into an Ivy League school, but he proved them wrong. He suffered the pain of being an outcast and a target for ridicule, but he never quit, saying he had "hope in the unseen." Even after being admitted into Brown, everyone always asked him to go with them to drink. Although he knew it meant he would be alone, he still refused. He changed for no one but himself, and, while he did try to change once in high school, he couldn't become someone fake. It's his unique background, integrity, and passionate heart that kept him at Brown.

A character who is able to directly address this issue is Bishop Long. Near the end of the book, Cedric explains to him that he "still believes in God, but felt he had outgrown the church and was ready to venture out." Pastor Bishop replies, saying, "If you ever find yourself in need of love, you know you'll always be loved here. Loved for who you are rather than who people want you to be." The issue of changing for someone else is brought up many times during the story, but never until the end of the book is it directly addressed. In Cedric's case, his statement of "outgrowing the church" was something he decided for himself.

In my opinion, becoming someone you aren't is asinine. The way someone feels is how they alone can feel. No one can decide their dreams for them, or who they are, because they have to want to be those things in their heart. Rob Burton, Cedric's roommate at Brown, wanted to become a marine biologist. While he was also expected to be someone, like kids at Ballou and Brown, he was expected to be something he wanted to be, and ended up majoring in marine biology and English. His strong desire to fulfill his dreams was his incentive, his thing to "push against." Everyone needs something to believe in, some sort of integrity to abide by, otherwise they have no real need to become better. Is it really worth someone liking you for the beautiful mask you're hiding behind?

Some people, like the students at Ballou, grew up around a certain style, a certain current, and anyone can agree that it's easier to go with that current than to swim against it and risk sinking. And then there's some people, like Cedric Jennings, who grew up with just as many problems as the people at Ballou, but decided he'd risk sinking, because he decided for himself that he was going to make it despite the "you can't's", "you won't's", and the "why bother's", as Cedric puts it. He has what many say the whole ideal of a Transcendentalist is: his own truths, which he discovered by himself and for himself. Transcendentalism is all about going against the tide and finding your own truths within yourself.

There is a teacher here at Grand Prairie who has a favorite saying, "If you think it be, you will be." Upon hearing that quote, I thought of how it related to this book. Many kids, both in the book and in reality, who don't like how they turn out when they're older, complain saying, "It was how I was raised," or, "I've never known any different." In the words of a Transcendentalist – find different. Find it for yourself and change. Dare to go against the world in all its corruption; dare to think differently and find your own beliefs.

In short, while it would probably be more peaceful if everyone changed and became the same, I still prefer everyone to be different. People would be so simple-minded and unwilling to accept new ideas if everyone was the same. What people really need to be unwilling to accept is the ability to change for someone other than themselves. We need to be willing to say, "Like it or not, this is who I am."