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STRONGER TOGETHER: Navigating Life's Currents—The Power of Mimetic Desire in the Age of Social Media

Last updated: 22/01/2024

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses mimetic desire, a concept coined by French philosopher René Girard that refers to our innate tendency to imitate the desires and behaviours of others, ultimately shaping our very essence.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

Natural mimicry is universal – plants mimic animals, animals mimic plants, animals mimic each other. Nature creates similarities, and for some species mimicry is necessary for survival. Yet the highest capacity for producing similarities is humans, and while the magnetic thread of mimetic desire is largely unconscious, many would argue that when humans mimic, they are aware of what they are doing.

Coined by the esteemed French philosopher René Girard, mimetic desire refers to our innate tendency to imitate the desires and behaviours of others, permeating aspirations, decisions, and relationships. It's a force that silently shapes our preferences, defines our pursuits, and moulds the very essence of who we are.

Think back to the last time you discovered a new passion or adopted a fresh perspective. Perhaps it was an obscure hobby, a newfound love for a certain cuisine, or even an unexpected career choice. More often than not, these inclinations stem from observing others, whether through direct interactions or the omnipresent lens of social media. Perhaps you would like to improve a skill or increase your knowledge in a certain area – is your first instinct to search the internet to see what others are doing?

Mimetic desire acts as a subtle undercurrent, steering us towards goals and ideals that mirror those we admire. Imagine a friend who, inspired by the glowing fitness journey of a social media influencer, embarks on a similar path. The exercise routines, the dietary adjustments, and even the carefully curated Instagram posts all become reflections of an aspirational ideal.

The impact of mimetic desire becomes particularly pronounced in the age of social media. Platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok serve as virtual bazaars of desires, showcasing an array of lifestyles, fashion trends, and career trajectories. A casual scroll through these platforms can leave us feeling both inspired and vulnerable to the allure of mimetic forces.

While mimetic desire can be a powerful motivator, it's essential to approach it with a discerning eye. The images and narratives presented on social media are often meticulously crafted, offering a curated glimpse into the lives of others. What appears as seamless perfection may be a mere snapshot, concealing the trials and tribulations that accompany every journey.

In the quest for authenticity, it's crucial to balance inspiration with self-reflection. Instead of blindly following the herd, take a moment to introspect. What truly resonates with your values and aspirations? Are your choices a reflection of your authentic self, or are they an attempt to fit into a preconceived mould?

Navigating the currents of mimetic desire requires mindfulness and self-awareness. As Oscar Wilde reminds us ‘Be yourself; everybody else is already taken.’ Embrace the positive aspects of influence, but don't let it dictate your path entirely. Use social media as a source of inspiration rather than a blueprint for your life. Remember, the most fulfilling journeys are often those guided by your unique compass, not the shadows of someone else's.

In a world that constantly bombards us with external influences, understanding the dynamics of mimetic desire empowers us to make choices aligned with our true selves. By maintaining a balance between admiration and authenticity, we can navigate the currents of life with a steady hand, charting a course that reflects our individuality amidst the sea of collective desires.

Please note: This website may contain references to, or feature images, videos, and voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have passed away.

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