I’m becoming more and more convinced that we do, in fact, each have a Conformist and also a Rebel within us.
No matter how determined you may be to fit in and go with the flow, there is a point at which you, too, would rebel. Where you would draw the line between conformity and rebellion would be much different than mine. But it’s really important to articulate exactly what that line is for you…
Two questions can help you get started:
- When is it important to conform?
- When is it important to rebel?
For those of you with a lot of Rebel in you…
Maybe you would say that it’s important to rebel anytime there’s something that you disagree with, or something you think is morally wrong.
But think really carefully about when it’s important to conform.
Is it important to conform in cases where rebelling would lead to you losing your job? Maybe there are ways you can make changes within the organization, but not if you get fired.
Is it important to conform in cases where doing so would be an act of love? Maybe you disagree with the politics of a singer your partner wants to go see in concert — setting that aside to be there with your partner may be worth it for you.
For those of you with a lot of conformist in you…
Maybe you tend to go with the flow or conform almost always. It can be easy to go along with things you don’t actually agree with, because it’s easier to go along than to cause a stir.
But think really carefully about when it’s important to rebel.
Groupthink is one concept I talk about with my students — when members of a group go along with something even when they know it’s not right. There are lots of studies and examples I go over with my students, but one that startled me was Asch’s lines.
This was an experiment where they placed a test subject in a classroom-like setting. The subject thought everyone else was also a subject, but they were part of the experiment. The researchers would show lines of various lengths on the board, and ask everyone to say which line (A or B) was closer to the length of the line they showed, like this:
They had each of the people participating in the experiment say that the answer was B, even though it’s clearly A. What they found was that by the time they got around to the research subject, they were very very likely (65 or 75% of them) to say B as well. Again, even though Line A is so clearly the answer.
In other words, people conform even when they know they’re wrong.
This can be really dangerous. Stanley Milgram did a famous (infamous, really) experiment as well, where he showed that people will do things they know are wrong if someone in authority tells them to. He had people use a shock generator on another person in a different room for the purposes (or so they thought) of measuring the effect of pain on memory and retention.
The majority of the subjects went on all the way to the highest (marked XXX) shock level, even though the person they thought they were shocking went silent — as far as they knew, the person could have been dead. Many of the subjects expressed discomfort with what they were doing, and said they’d like to stop, but the presence of the man in the white lab coat telling them that they must continue was enough for most to continue all the way.
Take the time to articulate your personal code.
I dislike confrontation, so I’m at risk of conforming even when a situation is really bad. Having a personal code has helped me. I’m able to say to myself, yes, this confrontation will be unpleasant — but I know I’ll feel guilty/awful/mad at myself later if I don’t say something.
Your answers are important to you, personally. The important thing is that you give conscious, intentional thought in articulating when you, personally, feel that it is important and when it is important to rebel.
Having a personal code gives you a guideline to adhere to when you’re not sure what to do.
Making decisions about conformity or rebellion in the heat of the moment is rarely a good idea, but having a personal code lets you make these decisions ahead of time.