— Dr. Robert Ford in “Westworld”
“Westworld” is an HBO series about a Western-theme futuristic park, where its visitors are enabled to live their fantasies with robotic “hosts.” The hosts, while looking and acting human, are programmed to operate within a narrative. Any “host” who behaves differently from their storyline will be considered an error and needs to be fixed or dismantled. The hosts become victims in the world that’s supposed to be theirs.
It is fascinating how similar our human world is to the Westworld. Together as a society, we create plots for each individual, based on our race, our background, our genders, elements that we are born and raised with and are unable to influence. Let me tell you my original narrative: I was born in a Southeast Asian country, in a middle-class family, and in a generation that had yet to escape from the influence of Confucianism. I have the look of a plain Jane according to our culture, and a typical smooth upbringing with parents who loved and protected me from everything. I was expected to stay with them until I married (typically by age 25), after having children I would step away from my career to take care of my children, my husband and later, my parents. It was the best life that I was taught to wish for. Then I started to wonder why life had to be that way. I had lived so long in a circle of people with the same mindset, who accepted their designed narrative without questions. I had known at the time, that if I wanted to see other possibilities for my story, I had to break out of that loop. And that was why I moved away, to a city I never lived in, and then to a country half the world away from my homeland.
The loops are everywhere. Social expectation and people’s opinion influence our values. And when the voice of the crowd is honeyed and close enough, it tightens the loop around our minds. Truth is, the more privileged we are, the harder it becomes to challenge our status quo. A life with comfort and approval creates the illusion of belonging; it keeps us away from questioning our reality. That is the worst loop we could ever live in.
I remember the first night in a city 700-miles away from my hometown, I lay on the floor of a cold and almost empty room, worrying about my next day at the new job. I missed the safe and warm feeling of my bed, the routine pleasure of my old life; and I wondered if I had made a mistake.
There were days when I stayed late, looking out of the window from a fancy office on the 57th floor. A big city with blinding lights layered on my shy reflection. In a moment, I could see both beauty and ugliness, both clarity and doubt. And I did not know what to believe in.
No matter who we are, we will continue to encounter the loops. Whenever we get out of a circle, there is another one wrapping in. Society today encourages people to change for a satisfying life. We share stories about those who make it through, and how much better their lives become. Yet, by doing so, we create another formulated plot of happy ending, in which we tend to ignore the parts that involve constant pains, conflicts, and adversity. Indeed, all those untold sufferings are the essential forces that drive us to expand our thoughts, and eventually break us free.
There is no happy ending. In fact, there is no ending. I started to realize now, that the adventure to challenge our being is an eternal journey inward. Each of us may still be generalized into an archetype by the outer world, but it is the freedom of our minds that gives us courage, makes us alive, and enables us to write our own unique stories.
So, observe and think by yourself. Don’t let the world distract you. Don’t let people tell you about your narrative. Stay conscious. Ask questions. Challenge the rules.
Nothing could ever hold us back.
Author: Ha Nguyen