“I think being different, being against the grain of society, is the greatest thing in the world.” – Elijah Wood
Despite the creative success and popular acclaim of many eccentric people in the arts, there are many overt and subtle pressures to conform. But at what cost to us personally, and for the health and vitality of society?
Psychologist Natalie Rogers, Ph.D. writes in her article Giving Life to Carl Rogers Theory of Creativity, “In these times where conformity is being thrust upon us by governments, we urgently need strong individuals who are able to think and act creatively. Creativity threatens those who demand conformity.
“Dictators squelch self-expression and the creative process. They do not want their citizens to think for themselves or to be spontaneous, imaginative or self-determined. Thus, creativity is subversive to those who demand conformity to a political system.
“The greatest social and familial pressure everyone experiences is to conform. We learn early in our life that if we want to get others to help us or cooperate with us, we need to do what pleases them. We also find that we get approval for how we are when we conform to othersâ€™ expectations of us.”
But in his article Authenticity, Andrew Schneider warns, “By conforming to gain acceptance and approval, we pay a very dear price. We lose ourselves. We create a split within ourselves â€“ a division between who we feel we are, and who we give the impression of being.
“Our self-image that we show others becomes our dominant self. But this self-image betrays our true self, and we suffer accordingly.”
He adds that to be fully alive “requires that we live from the source of life. This is within. Living with attention and presence to our innermost reality makes us independent and able to contribute in meaningful and fulfilling ways in all aspects of our life.
“Giving from our authentic self is not only fulfilling, but it is creative and empowering to others. When we get caught up in conformity, neglecting the true self within, we are only semi-conscious.”
As the lifehack.org post Why being yourself matters points out, there may be other negative emotional and spiritual impacts from conforming: “Being who and what you are is the most natural thing there is. To suppress it, whether through fear, yielding to social pressure, or lack of confidence always leads to trouble.
“Thatâ€™s why millions of people today lead lives of frustration and desperation. They denied who they are in the hope that the powers that be would reward them. Their reward was mediocrity, depression and a nagging sense that life like that is scarcely worth living.”
Psychologist Robert Ornstein, PhD notes, “People who think unusual thoughts often lead lives different from the rest of us. Isaac Newton spent almost sixteen hours a day locked up in his rooms at Cambridge working on his ideas… If you spend too much time being like everybody else, you decrease your chances of coming up with something different.”
[Image from book: Conformity and Conflict: Readings in Cultural Anthropology.]
Some related Talent Development Resources pages:
Being an outsider can be a building block of excellence
Eccentricity [page with multiple quotes]
Eccentricity – articles sites books
Self-esteem/concept sites books
Self concept / self esteem articles