Without realizing it, people want, desire, and pursue goals and ambitions that others pursue first. We are an imitating people, subconsciously reaching for goals not purely because we value them but because of our innate need for approval and acceptance. It’s also how we learn, starting at birth, where we mirror and mimic the faces of others. It’s how we learn to speak and behave.
It’s also the secret that advertisers play on. We aren’t just fed ads about attractive new products; we watch people like us obtain those shiny new objects, and the subsequent joy and implicit fulfillment they receive awakens desire within us.
But at some point, we need to stop mimicking the desires of others and discover our own.
René Girard, a French historian and philosopher, proposed the theory of mimetic desire. According to Girard, our desires are not entirely our own; they are imitative. People, especially young individuals, tend to desire things because others around them – friends, celebrities, or family members – desire them. This mimetic nature means that desires often reflect the social environment rather than an individual's authentic self.
In the context of guiding kids toward their future, mimetic desire plays a pivotal role. As they grow, their choices – from academic interests to career aspirations – can be significantly influenced by their surroundings. Recognizing this can help us understand why kids might suddenly change interests or feel conflicted about their choices.
Fostering Self-Reflection: Encourage young people to engage in self-reflection. Ask them to consider why they are drawn to certain paths. Is it because of genuine interest or external influence? Guided reflection can help them differentiate between authentically derived desires and those shaped by mimetic influences.
Creating Diverse Exposure: Expose them to a variety of experiences, cultures, and ideas. This broad exposure can help them develop a more well-rounded set of desires, not limited to the narrow scope of their immediate social circle.
For steps you can take, consider:
Understanding and applying René Girard's theory of mimetic desire can be a powerful tool in guiding young people to avoid the mistakes of pursuing inauthentic goals. By acknowledging the impact of external influences and encouraging self-exploration and diverse experiences, we can support them in discovering and pursuing their genuine paths in life.
For years we’ve been studying what a young person needs in order to transition into a healthy, thriving adulthood.
They're uncommon sense ideas, really.
Download this checklist and use it with your students (or kids).