Conformity

I am amazed by the similarity of people in various professions. Is it that each job brings with it changes to the people so eventually they look alike? Or rather, are we drawn to certain occupations because of who we are? And how often do we ‘change’ or try to at least, to fit in with the group that we want to belong to? This starts young and we can see it all through grade school into college. And for what outcome do we do this? Acceptance? Personally, I’m done chasing acceptance.

Here’s an example. Have you ever noticed how many ministers/pastors seem so similar? There has definitely been some temperament profiling going on. I have known hundreds of ministers and after a while it began to dawn on me how much alike they are – outgoing but not aggressive, confident but not opinionated, absolutely dead center on the extrovert/introvert scale. It’s true, look around you. I have been at conferences with literally hundreds of pastors. You can count the number of controversial personalities on one hand. If you are looking for marginal personalities, check the kid’s table. Most of them make a brief appearance as youth pastors.

A little known fact is that most youth pastors have a shelf life of only a few years before leaving for good. Why is this? I counsel several ex-youth pastors and they have admitted to me that they never ‘fit in’, that the pressure to conform was overwhelming; and that most of their creativity was shot down by established mores and hierarchical power brokers within the church culture. They expressed an increasing frustration and heightening awareness of their own worthlessness, brought on by repeated rejection and character assassination.

Unfortunately these are not isolated cases. The pressure to conform in society is overwhelming.

I love the Tony Campolo story about conformity. He starts by pointing out how important we like our children to feel. Imagine them at their first day of kindergarten. The school principal comes to the microphone and reassures the parents, “Here at hippity hop elementary school we take seriously the trust of your children. We like to think of each child like a little flower that needs to be watered and nurtured until it can blossom.” So the kid grows up thinking he’s a little flower. And everyone treats her special.

But the day comes when she has to get her first job. I’m pretty sure the foreman doesn’t get up and say, “Here at Landmark Lumber Mill we like to think of each employee as a little flower…” No way! The name of the game is conformity. About fitting in. About not making waves.

Institutions, by their very nature, stringently require conformity. It can be argued that effective organizations must not be constantly threatened by opposition or change to operate efficiently. Marginal employees and leaders are guilty of polarizing issues and straining relationships. They are difficult to bear with, without a modicum of understanding and equanimity. Many people simply do not put up with the extremes of opinion and action, viewing it as self-indulgent and evidence of a lack of restraint. Ultimately they come to be judged as immature or in need of Ritalin. One has but to witness the horrendous rise in childhood medication within the school system to see the practical application of current cultural philosophy. In a recent issue of Reader’s Digest they cited studies that concluded that while only a few percent of the general population of Canada suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder, over twenty percent of school students have been recommended for mind-altering drugs. It is far easier to dismiss and medicate than it is to recognize the inherent lack of appreciation for differing personalities. I have little doubt that I would have been recommended for such medication as a child had I been born ten years later. There is less and less room for ‘busy’ children in established organizations.

Considering the psychological ramifications, the societal pressure, and the subsequent lingering feelings of inadequacy, it is no wonder that marginalized personalities have a higher rate of chemical and emotional abuse. A vast majority of society’s disposable people exhibit anti-social behaviour and lack a general sense of propriety and culturally acceptable behaviour. An investigation into their pasts often reveals that they experienced catastrophic rejection as a child and continued to struggle with conformity well into adulthood. The example of Columbine High School put a magnifying glass on the potential dangers that we as a society face when we refuse to assign value to those who are unable to easily move within accepted norms.

I know a little bit about what it feels like to not fit in. My grade three report card actually said, and I quote, “Although Scott does well academically he thinks he can run the class and frankly I am getting sick of it!” Grade three, already a leader. Sweet.
One time, a very long time ago, my father asked his pastor at the time what to do with me. Apparently I was a handful. The old guy gently reminded my father that the story was not over yet, that often the most high-strung and oppositional kids grow up to be great leaders. This was sage advice.
I am keenly aware that I write for many people who have been beaten down by the system, by the expectations of others, by the death of dreams. It is tempting to feel marginalized when people are actually marginalizing you. As they say, it’s not paranoia if they are out to get you.

You’re ok just the way you are. I have spent much of my life chasing acceptance and it is vastly over-rated. I am tired of trying to “fit in” and chances are you are as well.

The story isn’t over yet.

5 thoughts on “Conformity

  1. Hey I was just talking about this with my counselor lastnite (I actually have found a counselor that “doesn’t suck”!!!)
    It’s hard figuring out what you are looking for in life when you have spent most of it being told how to act, who to be, what is and isn’t acceptable. I do not fit into the tidy little boxes of society (as I am finding many of us don’t). Why is it so hard to accept each individual for who they are and for being just that – individuals???

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