Conformity Essay, Research Paper
Conformity: the state of having changed yourself to match the appearances and/or personalities of those around you. In many cases, people feel the need to conform because they wish to feel a part of something bigger than them. This is unfortunate however, because it robs people of their individuality and their free will. Without individual creativity and self-expression, a lack of ideas results, leaving a dull and uncultured society, and possibly a group of people making bad decisions because a few people who appear to be hip are making them. In the following essay, I will discuss the negative impact that conformity has on society. I will use examples from my own experience, as well as the experiences and ideas documented by others in essays and film.
To ride the bandwagon or live without friends, those were the two choices I was given as a child growing up in elementary school. By the time I hit third grade, there were no cliques like there are in high school and college; you were either part of the in crowd or you weren t. If you weren t wearing the same designer clothing and an all-star in sports, then you weren t cool enough to associate with. Because I did not bend soon enough to the whims of the in crowd, I was teased mercilessly and left friendless. I did want to be cool and have friends, but since I was labeled uncool early, I was never given that second chance. I felt so pressured to be liked that I would do anything that I was told to do, just to have someone to play with, only to be left alone and laughed at anyway. This ceaseless taunting left me dejected and with low self-esteem, and stunted the maturity of my social skills. I was afraid to express myself in school for fear of being laughed at, so I would keep to myself. Because of the pressure of others to conform, my individuality was suppressed.
My experience is by no means an isolated and modern incident. Such pressure to conform has existed since ancient times. Men who have dared to think and act differently have been persecuted as far back as the ancient Greek civilization. One famous philosopher in particular, Socrates, was put on trial for his unique ideas and for trying to pass them onto others. Another Greek philosopher Plato, in a dialog titled, Crito, documents his story. In Plato s dialog, Socrates is being incarcerated and awaiting execution when his friend, Crito, visits him. Crito tries to appeal to Socrates to flee the unjust execution that the will of the many has imposed upon him. Socrates refuses, stating that the good people will remember him for the good he was trying to accomplish. Crito replies stating, But do you see, Socrates, that the opinion of the many must be regarded, as is evident in your case, because they can do the very greatest evil to those who has lost their opinion (Plato 45), and reiterates the point I made earlier that conformity erases the individuality of those it claims, and destroys those who dare to be individuals, as it does Socrates, who is later executed.
A collection of essays and short stories, titled Major Modern Essayist, also contains numerous stories about conformity and its impact on individuals. One short story, Shooting an Elephant, by George Orwell, talks about how the actions of one man are affected by the watchful eyes of a crowd. The main character, a British law-enforcer stationed in Burma, at that time controlled by the British Empire, is hated by the locals vicariously through their hatred for Britain, a hatred stemming from the oppression they endure as a protectorate of the empire. The main plot action of the story involves the officer pursuing a rampaging elephant, as a crowd of natives follows him. At the point in the story in which the officer finds it, the elephant has become tame,
But even then, I was not thinking particularly of my own skin, only the watchful yellow faces behind For at that moment, with the crowd watching me A white man mustn t be frightened in front of natives The sole thought of in my mind was that if anything went wrong those two thousand Burmans would see me pursued And if that happened it would be quite probable that some of them would laugh. That would never do. (Orwell 66)
So, as one can see, while this elephant did not need to be shot, the officer feels the pressure of the crowd behind him and lets his actions conform to its will, and so he murders the peaceful animal. Once again, we see that conformity has proven to be a destructive force, as one individual is robbed of his free will and his judgment is silenced.
Of Christian Heroism, by Cynthia Ozick, another piece from Major Modern Essayists, talks about conformity and how it applied to the holocaust of WWII. The more obvious case of conformity of WWII deals with the Nazi movement in Germany. Still suffering from the post-WWI reparations, an entire nation rallies behind Hilter, who gives them a way to be patriotic and nationalistic, part of a whole again. Hitler s whole idea was to create the Aryan race, the ultimate personification of conformity, where everyone looks the same and worships the ideas of one man; one appearance, one consciousness. Ozick argues that Nazi s were not the only people to blame for the massive genocide, saying that that the overwhelming majority of people in those nazi-controlled countries, and many allied ones, who did nothing to stop it, are also to blame. The bystanders as she calls them, conformed to an attitude of indifference. As she states, Indifference is not so much a gesture of looking away of choosing to be passive as it is an active disinclination to feel (Ozick 171). By choosing not to feel, to not exercise their views and opinions, they let themselves be robbed of their individuality by the will of the conformity of the Nazi s.
The issue of conformity has even made it into Hollywood in recent years. The movie Zelig, by Woody Allen, deals with an extreme case of conformity. In his movie, Allen documents the life of a man who struggles his whole life to be like other people. Adapting and changing himself to fit the people around him, the main character Zelig is never the same man from one minute to the next. Allen tells us later that Zelig performs these superhuman feats to feel like he belongs to something, to feel loved. The problem is that by conforming to everyone else, he loses himself in the process. As the dialogs of the people who talk about him in the movie state, he fits in so well they don t even notice he s there . How can a man ever feel loved if no one even realizes he exists? Woody also makes a tie in to the point I made earlier about the Nazi movement. Towards the end of the movie, Zelig flees to Europe, and is later located next to Hitler s side during a Nazi rally. Zelig has fled to the one place where no one would ever be able to notice him, where he would fit in with the rest of the countless people with one thing on their minds, to be a part of something. Again, the problem becomes, as Zelig becomes part of the Nazi movement, he loses his individuality to conformity and becomes, literally, just another face in the crowd.
As I ve shown you through my experiences and through the experiences and ideas of others, conformity promotes the suppression of individuality and robs people of their own free will. While that s not to say that people shouldn t conform to some things, such as laws that promote equality and fair treatment of others, people should avoid any situation: where they are not making their own decisions, where they are not able to able to express themselves, or where others think for them. It is true, that people need to feel loved, and many people try and achieve this by changing themselves to fit the likes of others, but people need to learn that their own individuality is more important than what someone else thinks about them. If a person can hang on to that, he will find people who appreciate him as the person he is, not the person he is trying to be. Then he will truly know himself and where he belongs in life.