Most of the time, we aren’t aware when we are conforming. Nevertheless, I started paying attention to it a little while ago, after reading several articles that all pointed out that conformity forces people to lose their identity!
That made me think… Does conformity really have such a bad influence? And if so, should it then be our greatest task to reduce it?
Before getting inside the dusty depths of my brain, lets clarify the meaning of the term. The more or less official definition is a “type of social influence involving a change in belief or behavior in order to fit in within a group”. However, I am not here to bore you with yet another textbook, so here goes with some more lively examples.
For instance, it could be me agreeing to yet another beer, even though the zipper in my pants is about to explode, just so my friends don’t start thinking of me as boring. Or staying seated at the bar, even though my insides are screaming ‘I LIKE TO MOVE IT MOVE IT’ just because the people I’m with are not into dancing.
My examples are, of course, very simplified and there are situations where it’s way more complicated. So, in reality, how much control do we really have over conformity? I mean, my earlier examples are quite managed, but most of the time we have no idea that we are adjusting ourselves to other people. I’m definitely not aware most of the time.
Is that something that should worry me?
I understand that conformity poses challenges, but at the same time, it’s a helping hand for navigating in the world surrounding us.
We use others to figure out what is going on in the world and what to do and think about it. Take politics for instance. I would be lying if I said that I haven’t been informed about some kind of political matter by a friend and then influenced to have a matching opinion about it.
Is that wrong? Honestly, I don’t know…
What I do know is that conformity gives a feeling of comfort – and comfort is not to be underestimated. I believe in one way or another we always seek situations where we feel comfortable. I could not imagine feeling comfortable being “that one person” stating that only men should rule the world at a corporate event led by women… I mean, I would feel extremely awkward no matter how convinced I was about being right, hence I would never say it.
In many ways, it’s like we can’t function without conformity and its ability to guide us.
Conformity is complex, but maybe a little part of it can be explained by the people surrounding us? When it comes to our memberships of different social groups, it’s interesting to think about how different our behavior can be without us noticing it. After some thought, I’ve jotted down a list of 5 behaviors that apply to me to different degrees. And maybe also to you?
1. The mommy
You always make sure to feed your friends and never forget to make sure they got home okay. You keep your friends from making mistakes by informing them of the long-term consequences of their choices. Irresponsibility is definitely not your style.
2. The alcoholic
You are the friend who always drinks too much tequila, falls asleep in a train, and accidentally ends up going from Copenhagen Central to Vejle. Your friends imagine you hitting the clubs in your 50s just as hard as you do today. No shame!
3. The control freak
You always seek to do things to perfection. Your Danish friends might even call you “square, practical, good” after a popular chocolate bar. You have a hard time fully relaxing, as you are always planning ahead. Efficiency is your favorite word.
4. The confident one
You are confident and don’t care what people think about you. You are comfortable in your own skin and don’t worry about your love handles whatsoever. You don’t question yourself, even at your worst.
5. The vulnerable one
You are not as confident as you may appear. In reality you have a lot of feelings. Talking about feelings may even be your favorite activity. Your friends might find you overly sensitive, but also kind of cute at the same time.
Once I realized that I was a combination of all these behaviors, I wondered if I was nuts? I felt like I had to find one characteristic and stick to it. Have a clear definition of my personality. However, I realized that it was completely unnecessary. We have different people for different things – and different people evoke different feelings in us.
Does that make you a slave to conformity? No way. You are still you!