Conformity is the act of adjusting our behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs to match those of others around us. Conformity is often viewed by some as the pinnacle of raising a child as a responsible citizen. I challenge that idea, in that conformity promotes blind obedience to any figure that is seen as having influence, control, or power. It diminishes an individual’s ability rationally to examine his or her own behaviors and actions in believing that somebody with power, control, or influence must “know best”.
Cross culturally as a collective species, we have socialized our most vulnerable to behave in accordance with their parents. The old cliché, “mother knows best”, starts this indoctrination into blindly following an authority figure, without questioning, constructively analyzing, or using some type of reality testing of whether “Mommy really does know best”. This practice might serve a positive form of socialization, but one crucial component is often forgotten in that most of us as parents, as humans, are flawed in different aspects of our behaviors, actions, and thoughts, myself included. We carry this idea of obedience and conformity to other to include other adults, teachers, peers, and different leaders, as well as it models these figures’ own biases of who is NOT worthy of respect.
Taking a stroll through our history, as well as current social crisis is a historical and living representation in how many of the most shameful, heinous, and disgusting behaviors and attitudes are based on conformity to some figure that has power, control, or authority. The attributes of power, control, and authority can be real, or perceived through charismatic actions. From governments and other groups that have waged war on others, often disguised as a moral crusades to induce mass conformity. To the sexual predator that victimizes the innocent based on their knowledge that conformity of the larger group will double victimize the victim in keeping their silence. To the bullies of the world, that often ridicule their victims, with the help of their “own personal gang”, in which if they did not have the support of the bigger group would become a coward. All of these situations were created by conformity, and all of these situations can only be remedied with conformity to peace, respect, compassion, and integrity for all. The parent that emphasizes and models a genuine respect of all peoples, while teaching empathy, compassion, and models of decision making, instead of conformity and obedience has instilled within their child not only values for life, but also skills to keep them from blindly obliging those who may lead them to stray from these virtues.
Being the mother of four children ranging from 23 years to 6 years old, the one hope that I have of my children is be selective of when you choose to conform. Conform when it respects the rights of ALL others. Conform when it shows empathy for another’s situation. Conform when it allows peace to flourish. I hope you decide to practice a LACK of conformity when it benefits you in terms of social acceptance, or some other type of gain, but degrades or hurts another. Above all, do not conform to my expectations because God knows I know I am not worthy of emulating, as well as having my own faults and behaviors that you should avoid. I hope you have respect for me because I am your mother, but I hope also you feel free to question my judgments, and make decisions that are aligned with aspirations of living a life of integrity, compassion, and kindness.
Not conforming in the face of social pressure will not make you a hero, win you endearment, or further your own position. In reality, it is often a harder, but a higher road in terms of the humanistic values of respect, authenticity, kindness, caring, empathy, and compassion. I never took it as an insult being called crazy or a lunatic by those that conform to others around them. In fact, it only provided confirmation that I had not lost my individual mind or soul.