Humans seem to prefer following others, specifically charismatic and colorful people. Much of society is made up of people who blindly go along with the crowd. This can be seen in group settings such as a school classroom discussion. The teacher asks her pupils about a topic, perhaps the plot of an assigned reading assignment.
The pupils are reluctant to raise their hands. Eventually, one brave soul raises her hand and shares her opinion. Another pupil raises his hand and offers a slightly different opinion. Soon, hands go up all over the classroom. Children are eager to support or dispute the two opinions. While there might be one or two outliers, most of the pupils have aligned themselves with either the girl or the boy. The result being two factions of pupils in the classroom.
The comfort of conformity seems to be an inborn trait because humans are such social creatures. It’s comforting to find our clique or in-group. Observe the various categories of school children. First and foremost are the popular kids. There is a lot of jockeying around and flattery by the rest of the pupils to be one of the favored group. The popular group is usually led by a particularly “cool” kid.
This tendency is most noticeable in high school regarding the special caste of jocks and cheerleaders. Below them are most of the remainder of the students who just want to fit in and not make waves. Every school has its outcasts who don’t fit in, and don’t want to conform. The outcasts are often ridiculed and shunned by everyone else.
There are exceptions in all of the categories of school children. The outliers take inner direction from within, not from their peers. They have listened to their own inner voices to adopt their own path and build lives unlike others. It is especially unsettling to adolescents who march to a different drummer because teens are most susceptible to the drive to fit in with everyone else. In most cases, the outliers go about their daily lives without attracting attention. On the surface, they seem to be like all the other kids. Just below the surface, they have learned to tap into their intuition and question tradition.
As the students grow into adulthood, they usually remain in their former levels of popularity. However, there is more fluidity between social classes as people gravitate towards different peers and explore their own inner natures. Yet, the basic structure remains alive. The kids who were voted into student council and the homecoming queen and king end up being the management of corporations or become politicians. The rest of the kids grow up into the adults of everyday life.
The outcasts may remain as outliers. Many of the outliers drift into lives of crime or, in more positive instances, they evolve as social mavericks and innovative entrepreneurs. A good share of the outliers become artists, writers, and entertainers. Although these categories are stereotypes, they’re basically true in most cases. Of course, these words are just my opinions.
The point is, we do not require external approval in order to succeed and thrive in society. Many people go it alone and go against convention; doing life their own way. There is an eagerness to challenge the status quo and question the rigidity of dogma, social structure, and tradition. They seek out opportunities to fortify their personal power in positive ways.
Meantime, much of humanity is running on autopilot, following along with the crowd, not wanting to make waves. They rarely question society and its social institutions. There’s nothing inherently wrong with such attitudes–they define the mainstream. Such conformity is OK.
Yet millions of people live lives of quiet desperation and exist within unhappy circumstances. They were socialized to lives of conservation, security, and conformity. They believed this would yield peace of mind. In reality, they understand that such a lifestyle is damaging to the adventurous spirit within. They discover that when we’re just like everyone else, we have nothing more to offer than our conformity. We become cogs in the machine. They learn that the reward for conformity is that everyone accepts and likes them, but themselves.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes entertainer Bette Midler. “Group conformity scares the pants off me because it’s so often a prelude to cruelty towards anyone who doesn’t want to–or can’t–join the Big Parade.”