I often get the impression that conformism is associate with negative connotations, while nonconformity serves as a role model. This stereotypical way of thinking can be very harmful and misleading. Both kinds of attitudes have their benefits and soft spots. When we start calling out everybody for nonconformity, we can wake up one day and realize that we lack people to obey the rules. We must realize that not all of us are created to rebel and deviate from the norms. Sometimes, we can simply contribute more to society through our obedience. And that’s ok.
What is conformism?
Conformism, in the least negative word possible, consists of uncritical compliance with the rules, adapting to common norms, and simultaneously adopting the values presented by the group. Negative definitions most often mention thoughtlessness, blind following the crowd and not having own opinion. Both types of definitions have something of the truth in them. As can be seen from the example; the form of the message affects the reader’s perception. And because the society is constantly telling us that we must go against the tide, that we must think for ourselves and not succumb to the pressure of society – we create our own opinion: conformity is bad. Is that correct though?
Conformism not as bad as it is painted
To understand when and how conformism can help us, we firstly need to think about where it came from. Conformity exists in our society for two main reasons: lack of our proper knowledge or fear of being rejected. Both reasons are based on how our brain is built and the fact that we are social units. As a species that need other people to survive, we simply must adjust our behavior to behavior of others. We instinctively want to avoid disgrace and rejection because we want to be a part of the society, of the group. We do not want to be excluded and in this way we try to comply with social norms.
Therefore, we are dealing with conformism when we reject the risk of being ashamed during confrontation. When we assume that what others are doing is correct, while everything else is incorrect. That process is deeply coded in our heads. It makes us stand in the longest queue. It makes us buy the last available chocolate in the store. We subconsciously assume that people know what they are doing and that we can use their knowledge to make the best possible decision for ourselves. We trust them that they know which chocolate is good and that they don’t stand in the longest queue for no reason. And this is not bad at all. Imagine how much time and energy you would have to devote to making every single decision?
Everyday situations type of conformism
Let’s take for example the choice of new electronic equipment. Because the fact that you read other people’s opinions on the Internet, study rankings and choose equipment recommended by the largest number of people is also conformism. You don’t study the specifications of every phone or laptop. You don’t examine all parameters of every model on the market. Because it can’t be done. It is no longer about time and energy alone. There is also the fact that we are not able to acquire such knowledge in every field. Choosing a bar of chocolate is not theoretically a big decision, but we trust others so often. And this is just a manifestation of our wisdom. We are able to entrust others by leaving them less important decisions so we can focus on more important things.
Where then does nonconformity come from?
A society whose behavior is dictated by shared values and marked by the same rules is above all consistent. And we need such societies. It’s a little bit different though when these values don’t seem to be exactly what they should be. Or, when along with the changing world, society also needs to change. Let’s be honest: how would our life look like today if people did not decide to adapt to change? But these changes do not come automatically and evenly. It’s not like that one day everyone wakes up and realizes that change is needed. Usually, it is the people who awaken this society.
What would our reality look like if Walesa did not oppose the communist system? Or if Greta did not speak up, waking us all from stagnation? Or what would happen if Jonas Salk didn’t invent the flu vaccine? All these people it costed a lot to oppose generally accepted views. It is hard to wake up the society from the beliefs usually held by units throughout their whole lives. That is when nonconformists are needed.
Is it worth being a non-conformist?
We all want to be part of something bigger. Doing something significant. But most often, to be different, you must also choose a path other than the others. Searching in other places, acting against the norms. The rules most often lead us to live happily ever after. In contrary, the life which is lacking the norms is a restless, bumpy and full of doubt life. While we don’t really know where the path will lead us, it usually leads through spikes.
We must accept the fact that people will frown upon us. They will. Because this is the definition of non-conformism – doing something against the norms, against people saying how to do it. And it will be hard because it always is. However, we will gain a sense of strength, consistency and courage. We will definitely be unhappy, which is why self-denial and doing something from the heart is so important. Because people will make you doubt a million times. If you are not sure, you are not be full of passion or you are not able to swear blind – you will die on the battlefield. You will be consumed by 99% of society, which will be drawing from the group’s strength and which will be fighting you – a person being totally on its own.
Nonconformism at any cost?
That’s why I might shock you – but give up if you are not sure. Nonconformity is a hard thing and is not always worth it. But if you try, I wish you luck and perseverance. Because in my opinion the definition of nonconformity is having a total trust in yourself, in your decisions and in your system of values. And if you achieve your goal, no one will ever be able to take your trust to yourself again from you.
Let’s see shades of gray
Blogging promotes exaggerated creativity. But I don’t want it. So I say: let’s be reasonable. Let us obey the rules on the road, do not push people out of their queues in the grocery stores and do not leave the houses during the pandemic in the name of conformity. There are certain areas that can simply collapse when people want to follow their own paths. Let’s just stick with our sense and rationality. Because this is the basis of conscious non-conformist decision-making and successful coexistence in the society. Let us just know that not everything is black and white. We know the benefits of nonconformity, but let us also be aware of the costs it entails. Sometimes it’s way simpler and nicer to sit in a comfortable armchair, turn on Game of Thrones and not worry about anything else than the characters who are about to die.