My friend Darren’s case is a classic example of how the determination of loved ones to decide one’s course of life can lead to tragic consequences.
Coming from a conservative background, his family had considered marriage as a part of life that all need to undergo. Darren’s decision to get married was made purely keeping his family’s approval and expectation in mind. The family, believing that it was their prerogative to get Darren married at the right time, got him ceremoniously married. Needless to say, the marriage barely lasted for few years before the couple began to lead separate lives.
For many, an unsaid regret in their life is being who others want to see them as. It is with a deep sense of loss and sometimes bitterness in later years that they are struck by the realization that they actually forgot to live. True, they dutifully met family and societal expectations but at what cost?
Individuals conform many a time due to their fear of non conformity, mistaking it for anti conformity.
The nonconformist believes in independent thinking. Their behavior and actions are purely made from their own beliefs and principles. Thoughts and conduct are neither influenced by the actions and behavior of others as much as the logic behind them are. They may treasure preferred moments of solitude but little interest in thriving in a state of loneliness. The interest to participate in discussions that involve different views other than their own enables them to be agreeable to changing their views. They intrinsically appreciate and respect society and the members who live in it.
A follower of anti conformity believes in dependent thinking. Contrary to the belief they may have about themselves as being followers of independent thinking, their thoughts and actions are ironically based on the actions and behavior of others. Since their primary objective is to behave differently from others, they neither think about the value or logic of others’ actions. A believer of anti conformity is likely to live in isolation. The conscious efforts they continuously make to reject beliefs and views of others will alienate them from society, since their life focus is to negate others rather than lead their lives with conviction and purpose.
The three main types of conformity that have been observed are –
Internalisation, Identification and Compliance.
Internalisation is a profound and high impact level of conformity. This type of conformity leads to behavior changes that are generally long term since it affects the belief system and image too.
Members of cults are sometimes known to undergo an internalization of comformity after they join the group. Kidnap victims and hostage victims are also known to sometimes exibit behavior that reflects a positive attitude or identification with their captors.
An example of internalization is the infamous robbery in Stockholm, Sweden in 1973, where some of the hostages once freed went as far as paying the defence legal fees of their captors and became friends with them. Coined by psychiatrist and criminologist Nils Bejerot, this incident and its aftermath was studied and came to be known as the “Stockhom Syndrome”.
Identification follows the middle path of intensity to conformity. In this case the individual merely identifies with the group in their proximity by changing their private beliefs and public behavior.
This type of conformity is especially observed in teenagers. Acceptance of their Peer group is so crucial to many teenagers’ self- esteem, that they strive to fit in with the group just to seen as “cool” by them.
Compliance as a type of conformity is the least among the three in terms of its effect on the personality of the person. It is when an individual changes the public behavior when in the proximity of the group but not the beliefs.
This is also reflected sometimes in children’s behavor when they wish to show respect by identifying with what parents do. They may not believe in some beliefs of the parents but to please the parent, they may resort to the display and a pretended acceptance of the belief.
Newly married couples sometimes display the tendency to indulge in compliance during the honeymoon phase of marriage. A spouse may proclaim to enjoy a type of cuisine only because the other spouse enjoys it. But in reality the spouse may do everything to avoid eating that food.
The risk of being an ardent follower of conformity is that it tends to stifle individual expression and growth. The implicit expectations that a person is compelled to meet in the process furthermore creates stress, guilt and hopelessness.
It was in their study of informational and normative social influences upon individual judgement that Deutsch, Morton, Gerard and Harold B, identified two valuable reasons why we strive to conform.
One is “Normative Influence” and the other is “Informational Influence”.
Normative influence results from our inherent desire to avoid punishment and gain in the process. The “punishment” can also be guilt caused by emotional blackmails practiced by followers of a group (or members of a family) to convince the hesitant non conforming member to comply and follow. Following the rules of a group even if we do not like them and following the behavior patterns of a group to be included in the group are two examples of normative influences.
The desire in being seen as correct is the reason behind the power of Informational Influence. This compels us to seek the influence of those we perceive as more learned. For example, during my third grade, the opinion of the child who was scholastically brilliant was always recognised and respected by the rest of the class than the opinion of Charlie, my bright but naughty classmate who was notorious for his mischief in class.
One of the ways of evolving into a unique yet respectful member of society is by practicing tolerance, respect and compassion. The myriad cultures, languages and beliefs that we belong to only emphasis how much there is to understand about the world we live in. The more we refuse the perpetual conditioning by society and the media and live with the convictions of our principles and an understanding of who we are, the better it is for us and the world. Furthermore, we will then have little or no desire to practice conformity out of blissful naivete.
Through this process we will sharpen our awareness to the views of others not due to the constant desire to conform to their ideology and attain their approval but to improve ourselves from who we were yesterday. Living in a mode of fear and thirst to conform for approval could also perpetually lead us to live our days like the proverbial frog in the well.
Conscious personal development, enlightening experiences, altruistic actions and intellectual stimulation all can help us to lead a life of enrichment. Let us live with a fearless attitude to question the expectations from others and the determination to overcome the intellectual stagnation that invariably follows blind conformity.