Conformity is a rather simple concept to understand. It’s when people act and behave like those around them. Simple, right? Well, conformity is a much broader and complex topic than we initially perceive. It’s not just about behaving like everyone else. It’s about what happens to those who don’t, how conformity plays a huge role in our development, and how it affects us every minute of every day.
Everyone, whether they know it or not, has a mini internal battle about what decisions to make. Do I do this because I want to, or do I do this because everyone thinks I should? We don’t normally actually think this, but it happens nonetheless. Even the clothes we choose to wear in the morning are based on ideas of conformity. Should I wear a suit to work or some jeans and a t-shirt? Everything we do is based on, not only social norms, but the sanctions we might receive if we don’t act appropriately. Sanctions are “the penalties and rewards we face for conduct concerning a social norm” (Witt 130). For example, if I walked down the street and stared at everyone coming my way, I would get weird looks and maybe a few grumbles under the breath. This is a minor negative sanction. A positive sanction would be if I worked hard at my job and received a promotion. We do things and get some kind of a sanction for it, whether that be good or bad. These sanctions directly affect our behaviors. No one wants to go somewhere and get weird looks, so they dress appropriately. This is just one way conformity plays a role in our daily lives.
Conformity also plays a role in socialization. Socialization is the “lifelong process through which people learn the attitudes, values, and behaviors appropriate for members of a particular culture” (Witt 73). Everything that we are taught at a young age shows us how we are to live our lives properly. If we don’t conform to these ideals early, we become outcasts in our society. In our culture it is considered beautiful to be skinny and tan. In other cultures it is beautiful to have small feet and be pale. Depending on the culture you’re raised in, you conform to a different set of social rules and norms. This connects to the idea of a generalized other. This is when “an individual acts, he or she takes into account an entire group of people” (Witt 77). When we conform our behaviors and actions to that of those around us, we aren’t only thinking about ourselves, we are thinking about an entire group of people. This group of people sometimes consists of everyone that you will encounter when you walk outside. Other times it’s only the people you know.
Conformity contributes to our identity as humans. We identify ourselves with the statuses we’ve been given or achieved such as, father, police officer, and president. With each of these statuses comes a specified set of roles we adhere to. For example, a fire fighter will put out a fire, or a baby sitter will feed the children they’re watching. What if the people in these statuses did not conform to the roles they are ascribed. Chaos would ensue because no one would know who was supposed to do what. Conformity provides a sort of order to society so we all can live together peacefully. Conformity is such a natural thing we never really think about. Everything we do and say is some form of conformity. It shapes our identity as people and shapes even the smallest decisions we make. Conformity is a good thing, but can it also be negative?
For some reason, whenever I think of the word “conformity,” I think of it negatively. In my head, being like everyone else sounds terrible. I’ve been taught my whole life that I’m a precious unique little snowflake who shouldn’t be and never will be like everyone else. I think this is true, but to an extent. We are individuals with certain likes and dislikes, but everything we do has been influenced by some outside source. We conform to what we see as correct from our friends, family, and even the media. What would happen if everyone thought and acted the same way? We would go nowhere as a society and become stagnant. We wouldn’t be creating new things and coming up with new ideas abecause everyone would conform to everyone else. We need those anti-conformist people to think of new things and to bring us forward as a society. I think there is a certain balance between lots of conformity and little conformity.
In my personal experience, I’ve found conformity to be awful. Certain things in the society of today I think are wrong and should not be conformed to. For example, I don’t think underage drinking is okay, and I don’t think sex before marriage is okay either. These thoughts are becoming old and obsolete, but I don’t want to conform to these things simply because I think they are wrong. I think we have to be choosey about the things we conform to. We can’t just do what everyone else is doing because the majority of people are doing it. The old adage of, if he jumped off a cliff would you follow, seems to apply here. We need to decide what parts of society are okay to conform to and which parts are not so okay. When we make these decisions, I think our lives will be easier to live because we will have a better understanding of ourselves and where we fit into the world.
Witt, Jon. Soc. Ed. Gina Boedeker. 2011th ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 2011. N. pag. Print