It was Rita Mae Brown, who once said,
“I think the reward for conformity is that everyone likes you except yourself”
As a professional who gets to meet and learn from many people, I thoroughly enjoy meeting and knowing people. People are special, with their unique personality traits, hailing from different backgrounds and myriad cultures. Yet one common regret among people that I’ve come across is the regret of not becoming what they actually want to become.
Several of those have excellent qualifications, appear to have the best of life, but speaking to them gives us the true story behind the facade of success. One gentleman who was in early fifties remarked, ” I’m not happy with my work. It is comfortable and enables me to live well but I don’t want this job”.
To my query on why he decided to opt for the profession he’s in, he merely shrugged and said, “Most of my friends and college mates had opted for this field, I had no particular idea what I wanted to become, so I thought this will be suitable for me”
How many of us are in the same boat? And if we are, are we bold enough to admit it – even to ourselves?
Our desire to Conform is an adherence to the desire to respond positively to social influence.
In our wish to blend in with the group, we change our behavior and attitude to suit the group expectations. As a teenager, I went through a brief phase of life when my desire to conform to peer expectations of my new school saw me make extra efforts to “fit in”.
For some time, I tried to dress differently and appear different. I began to wear clothes that were (according to my assumption!) supposed to be stylish. Looking back, I’m relieved to note that after my initial attempts to look like a member of the group, I went back to being me.
Right from infancy, we start our quest to seek the comfort of conformity.
If we are to observe an infant who throws a tantrum in a toy shop, you can be sure the infant will be basing the behavior on past similar incidents where this behavior had led to success. Or it could also be a case where the infant will be attempting to “test the response” of the parents or caretaker.
Any attempt to discipline will be observed by the infant as encouragement or discouragement. It is also a situation where the success of the child’s tantrum will be based on what behavior is seen recognized as conforming to the expectations of the parents.
During some of my trips to supermarkets, I have come come across situations where a child wails and lies down while the parent appears to be acutely embarrassed. In these situations, 90% of the time, I’ve observed that it is the wailing child who succeeds and not the cajoling and uncomfortable parents.
In some other situations, the child may begin the process of a tantrum but to the discomfort of the child, the parents will give scarce attention to the child leading to the failure of the attempt of the child to.
The child invariably will learn to conform to the expected appropriate code of behavior over a period of time. This also sets the stage for the kind of behavior that the child will display in the future.
As parents, it is critical to instill values and principles in our offspring but in the process do we deprive them the joy of living life – keeping their desires and personality traits in mind? Do we consciously or unconsciously strive to mold them based on societal expectations, accolades and appreciation? Our first step as parents, instead of rushing to teach them the ABCs, could be more powerful and life changing if we encourage our child to explore, respect and understand the world and themselves better.
What stops us from leading a life that we wish to? Our parents, friends, our social environment? Every one of us is special with beautiful abilities and talents. The only way to be who we are meant to be is by becoming aware of our potential, likes and dislikes. Most importantly we need to ask ourselves whether we will be happy not conforming to the familiar trodden path taken by others.
The question is, do we dare?