IMAGINE YOU’VE volunteered for a study. You arrive and sit at the end of a row that has four other participants.
The presenter gives you two cards: one has one line, and the the other has three lines.
You are asked to compare the length of the one line with that of the other three to determine which one is the same length as the original line.
The other participants give their answers one by one. They unanimously give an answer that’s different from what you have, and which also is clearly wrong.
The question is this:
When it’s your turn, will you change your answer to match theirs, or will you stick with your own answer?
I can hear you saying; “I will definitely stick to my answer.”
Well, you may have to think again because the results of the above exercise shows there is a great probability that you would change your answer.
Studies upon studies reveal that humans tend to believe what the people around them believe, and they tend to accept as truth the ideas handed over to them from their social environment.
If you find yourself among a group who are singing and dancing to a beat, the chances are very high that you would soon join in. Perhaps not immediately, but sooner than later, especially when you watch other persons who come in after you join in the same behavior.
This is called social conformity – a type of social influence that results in a change of behavior or belief to fit into a group. And it’s the reason for the biased approach to life that we are often entrapped in. As a matter of fact, most of our decisions are greatly influenced by what is or is not socially acceptable.
This could be logical but the problem is that many atimes what is socially acceptable isn’t always the right or the best thing to do in certain cases.
When you hear the gold mantra, “be yourself,” you wonder why it’s usually a hard feat to undertake. Shouldn’t it be the easiest thing to do – being yourself?
Perhaps that’s what it ought to be. But on the contrary, it’s not.
Social conformity is the reason it can be so tiresome to be yourself. We live in a world that’s constantly pressing us hard to fit into a particular predefined mold irrespective of whether that mold fits our personality or not.
Being yourself in a world that’s constantly pushing you to conform to a known standard, a particular pattern of behavior, is the biggest war you will ever wage in life after the battle of the mind.
This concept is so critical that even the Scripture had to warn us sternly against conforming. It says; “Do not be conformed but be transformed…”
The scenario described at the beginning is actually part of a famous experiment conducted by a renowned Psychologist in the early 1950’s to determine how often people conform and why.
In the experiment, the person at the end of the row (you) is actually the only participant. The other four are actually actors, who purposefully gave the incorrect answer.
It was observed from the experiment that a total of 75% of individuals subjected to this exercise conformed. That is, they joined in with the other four to give the incorrect answer even when it was clear to them it is incorrect.
The implication of this result is that 8 out of 10 persons today are social conformists – acting based on what seems socially acceptable or readily permissible.
Why is this so?
Social conformity is driven majorly by two forces: the desire to be “liked or accepted” and the desire to be “correct”. Psychologists repectively call them “normative” and “informative” types of conformity.
These two forces are the reason most of us tend to conform to an existing reality or pattern of behavior without asking questions.
It is the reason we will follow the majority to engage in stupidity even when the signs are obvious to us.
In my soon coming book – The Lies They Told Us In School, I devoted a particular session to explain how this phenomenon plays out and how it has stunted the evolutionary pace of the educational system, as well as its debilitating effect on the average student.
The aforementioned two forces can manifest in different forms:
__The desire to feel right
__the desire to feel part of a group
__the desire to gain social approval and acceptance from members of a group
__the desire to avoid being criticized
__the desire to avoid being ignored
__the desire to behave in a manner that is perceived to be right or correct
__the desire to avoid feeling inferior to others.
For fear of appearing like a social misfit, most of us hardly attempt to shake things up a bit around us. This is why we are not evolving as we should. This is what stunts our growth.
Life is meant to be explored (howbeit within the perimeters of reason and morality). But this cannot be done from a conformist standpoint.
Where does inventions come from?
How did mind-blowing ideas that has brought uncommon social advancement and human development come about?
The answer is simple.
Some folks dared to think and act in socially “unacceptable” ways. This group refused to give in to the pressure to conform to an existing norm. They preferred being tagged “socially-incompetent” over staying stumped in a particular mold.
The desire to explore the depths of life was far more intense than the desire to be accepted or the desire to be “correct”.
There’s no doubt that social conformity is one of the biggest obstacle to personal evolution.
The key however, is to know what is socially acceptable, but to still go ahead and explore other boundaries.
Be an explorer not a conformist.
Give yourself the permission to venture into unchartered territories against all odds.
They say you must finish the food before eating the meat. Try otherwise.
They say you must write with your right hand. Try the left one.
They say you must do it this way or that way. Try the other way.
This may appear to many as being rebellious. “Who are you to challenge an existing protocol or norm?” could be the question.
As much as possible turn deaf ears to such mundane talks. As long as you have the conviction, and as long as what you are doing is within the realms of reason and morality, it can be anything but rebellion.
You may be tagged a social misfit. You may be rejected by friends and even family. But one thing is certain, you will soon discover something beyond what already exists. And when that happens, the world which once rejected you will be left with no other option than to consult your expert knowledge.
Sooner than later the same world that wanted you to conform will be compelled to pay you to be yourself.
So will you continue to conform? Or will you learn to give yourself the permission to explore the many-sided dimensions of life.
The former will keep you at a spot, at the same level with everyone else. But the latter will move you to a higher orbit in the shortest possible time.
There’s no future in being a conformist. Life is to be explored. So be the explorer. That’s where the future lies.