Conformity

Throughout my life I've had varying views on conformity.  There were periods of time, mostly in grade school and maybe middle school, where I kind of felt like I should conform and that I wanted to be like other people.  At the same time, I remember sitting by the school building on the playground watching other kids play and feeling like I was just not part of it.

Anyway, I definitely went through a phase in high school where I refused to conform merely for the sake of nonconformity.  I wore my bookbag on the front and I walked around conducting music to songs that were playing in my head.  In fact, one time this guy saw me walking down the hall when I wasn't conducting and he asked "Is the band on break today?"  I do have to admit, I thought that was pretty funny.  But there were other things I did just to be different.  I didn't walk at my graduation because I didn't like the idea that there was one company that had a monopoly on cap and gown rentals and it was their way or the highway.

I can't remember when it started, but to this day I refuse to conform to fashion trends.  My wife tried really hard to get me to wear outfits that matched, and my roommate is a fashion freak.  He's threatened to burn some of my less-fashionable clothes.  I really think I embarrass him with what I wear, but I don't really care.  Anymore, I don't really go out of my way to be unfashionable (although it's extremely tempting to do so when people try to coerce me in to dressing nice).  Now, it's more like I just view clothing as perfunctory.  As long as it covers up my body and keeps me covered, I don't really care what it looks like.  I have a stack of shirts in my closet and I just take the top one off the stack each morning and put it on.  I do actually go through my pants/shorts and pick which one I want to wear, but I only ever just match my mood, not my shirt (my roommate will testify to that).

So, I suppose my current view on conformity is complete apathy.  I no longer go out of my way to refuse to conform, but I won't go out of my way to conform either.  I want other people to like me, but I really want them to like me for who I am, not for who I'm trying to be like.  So, it's not that I'm apathetic to how other people view me.  It's just that I'm apathetic toward conformity and the mindset that I need to conform in order for other people to approve of me.  If they want me to conform in order for them to like me, then I feel like they have a problem with their own authenticity.

I am at a place where I am comfortable with who I am.  I feel like I have made quite a bit of progress in the line of self-discovery and I am glad of that.  So, in any respect that I do conform to the norm I hope that it is due to me being truly myself, and in any respect that I do not conform I also hope that it is due to authenticity, not rebellion.

I like to think that I'm rather open-minded and accepting with other people.  I can respect people that wish to conform and I can respect people that wish to rebel against the norm.  I have a friend that likes to wear women's clothing, not because he's gay or that he wishes he was a woman, but merely because he doesn't think that it's fair that we have strict regimes for how men and women should dress.  He feels that society is sexist in expecting men to wear one thing and women to wear another.  I can respect him for that belief, even though it has never really bothered me to wear "guy" clothes and avoid wearing "girl" clothes.

On the other hand, as I said before, my roommate is quite fashion-aware.  He takes a long time getting ready for the day, making sure that he looks nice.  He has very nice clothes and his outfits always match.  I tease him about this quite a lot, but really and truly I can respect him for wanting to look his best, and for wanting to fall in line with what society has decided is "fashionable."

The only reason for writing this post is that there are times when conformity leads to disaster.  There are people who really truly are different and nearly break themselves by trying to conform to what everyone thinks they should do.  On a minor scale, there are some boys that do not enjoy sports, but to make their father proud of them or to fit in with peers, participate in sports although it is not enjoyable to them.  There are some girls that do enjoy sports and they wish they could be "one of the guys" and just throw a ball around with them, but are told that they should be more "ladylike".  Gladly, these strict gender roles are being relaxed a little bit over the last generation or two, and so this is not so much an issue.  But, the point that I mean to make here is that sometimes society is hard on an individual for not fitting in.  The Japanese even have a proverb that says "The nail that sticks out is pounded down." which I paraphrase as "Conform or die."  I admit there is wisdom in attempting to achieve unity as a society, but I think that overbearing conformity is not the way to do that.