One women’s sense of style is another’s example of bad taste. The same can be said about one culture’s norms compared to another. On the smallest or largest scale, discernment is a construct not an instinct.
I’ll make my case with twin sets – a matching pair of sweaters (jumpers) worn by women. Agatha Christie characters wear twin sets with pearls. So cliche is the attire that the dress became a pejorative, as in “The Twin Set” Set. A few years ago, the twin set came back, hailed by style-setters as something new and chic, immediately making all previous cultural references to twin sets null.
So how do we teach young minds to be discerning? We don’t, because biology shows that discernment is not possible until the early 20s. The inability of the brain to discern explains so much about teenage style – or depending on the level of adult discernment – lack thereof.
Does that mean we shouldn’t try to establish discernment in a mind unready to accept it? I gave some thought to this recently, because tonight I will see Shirley Jones in concert. Yes – that Shirley Jones, Mama Partridge or as I first encountered her, Marian the Librarian. I don’t know anyone else within walking distance of my theatre as excited as I am to see her perform live. I have been a fan since I was a teenager, long before I was capable of true discernment. Yet here I am, many decades later still a fan, even though she has been in and out of fashion like that twin set I mentioned.
I believe that what we are exposed to during the early years gives us the foundation on which we build our sense of style and discernment in later years. The less to which we are exposed the weaker the foundation. The more we encounter, the stronger the foundation. Cultural norms will influence us, only living in a vacuum would eradicate that!
No, I am not arguing that cultural norms should be inhibited. I will argue that young people should be taught that the norms that surround them can be limiting. Take colour for example – I am not a fan of Asian colour aesthetics. I am not a fan, because I grew up with deep purples, and autumn colours presented in shag rugs. The greater my exposure to Asian thinking and art, the more I understand that my dislike is culturally imposed.
Open-minded, discerning adults are nurtured not born.