Time to be rebelliously positive…and positively rebellious!
We often have a negative undertone and perception associated with the word conformity, as it can conjure up images of weak minded individuals being easily influenced and manipulated by those around them; but however negatively conformity is looked upon, it can be a good thing sometimes. It would be madness, for example, if we didn’t choose to conform to the rules of the road for the sake of our own safety and for those around us.
But what is it about conformity that gives it such a bad name? Particularly when it can be such a source of creativity and innovation. It’s because conforming is one of the easiest things to do, and more often than not, the easiest thing to do may not always be the right thing to do. It’s the path of least resistance and most people naturally gravitate towards it and follow it, with their thought pattern being: “Hey, everyone else is doing it so I might as well hop on board and not be left out and if it turns out they’re wrong, at least I’m not alone.”
Because most people follow the path of least resistance, it tends to attract and gather the majority, creating enough social power and influence to create enormous pressure on others around them to conform to the group’s values, to the group’s beliefs, with the group acting like a black hole sucking in those around them. In the echo chambers of a ‘post truth world’ and the powerful shaping forces of the media environment we now live in, we all need to be aware of the peril of being pressured to conform. We all have a need to belong yet wish to be recognised for the authentic individuals we all are.
When you choose not to conform to the status quo, that kind of action can make you, as well as those around you, very, very uneasy. It makes us uneasy because we find ourselves going against the group and because we have lived in a small tribal type society for most of human existence, going against the group has in the past meant dire consequences, consequences that could affect our very survival.In this global day and age, we don’t live in such a tight knit group so that stigma is not as bad - but it’s still there.
Others around you feel uneasy when you choose not to conform simply because their egos have been so invested in the group, that your actions may very well make them feel offended and defensive about the choices they have made. It’s naturally in their interest to bring you back to the group’s thinking for their own sake.
When you choose not to conform, you WILL find yourself on the outside. You’ll feel like an outcast, discouraged, alone, cut off from the group, with the feeling that those around you are just waiting for you to fail so that they can feel justified in choosing to conform along with the rest of the group.
All this can be too much for some, so they will decide to conform and live like the rest, wondering their whole lives, what could’ve been.
So how can we balance this powerful social urge to conform?
First, it can be useful to examine the motive behind not conforming. If you’re not conforming just for the sake of not conforming, it can be a pretty juvenile motive to have. You need to be able to really justify it, to have an answer not just to others but to yourself. You owe it to yourself should you choose to take this type of action.
Why am I choosing to walk this different path? The stronger your justification, the easier it will be to weather the social storm you’re sure to encounter from those around you. If you have no concrete reasons for choosing not to conform, the next easiest thing for you to do will be to automatically defer to the group’s values and beliefs.
Second, it’s likely you’re going to find yourself isolated very quickly so be ready for that. We might be drawn to seek out those who share our views and stick with them for social and moral support. It may feel like you’re the only one who thinks and feels a certain way regarding a specific issue, but rest assured you are not alone. A lot of people that you meet everyday may think and feel the same way but keep quiet out of fear of retaliation from the group but there are those who definitely think and feel like you. Our instinct is to find them, seek them out and stick to that group, and reduce ties around those outside of us who don’t share our views.
The third thing to do is to constantly test ourselves to see if this is actually what we want i.e. Is this right for me? - to constantly justify the path to ourself. There may have been extenuating circumstances, powerful emotions that might have acted as a catalyst and clouded your thinking in the first place, so it’s always wise to make sure that you’re doing what you truly want to be doing. Be brutally honest with yourself. Is this the path you want to walk? Why? What makes you so sure it’s the right one for you? The pressure to conform will always surround you due to the size of the group, so it’s always wise to be able to counter that pressure from within.
When you do all this, you can still find yourself in a very healthy and nourishing environment that can, in turn, help you create something great, something that can even change history.
History has been made from those who have chosen not to go down the easy route which meant in most cases, choosing not to conform to the status quo because after all, it’s far easier to say yes to the group without thinking twice, than it is to really personally reflect on the issue at hand and have the courage to say no.
There’s an excitement and ‘an edge’ to being rebellious for sure, however, we are at our best when it is aimed towards a positive cause, aligned with who we want to be and the legacy we wish to create. Food for thought to inspire you the next time you find yourself faced with that choice.
John Matthews is a Senior Consultant at Impact UK.