On the surface, conformity may seem like a harmless – if not minor – problem in human nature. We live in a civilization where the person next door could be involved in a Ponzi scheme, sexual assault or even murder. Yet here I am concentrating my attention on the insignificant act of merely doing something to appease the likes of others. But is it really something we shouldn’t take all that seriously?

Let’s start with small example. Over the course of the summer, Kutztown University bestowed us with a Starbucks Coffee Shop in our very own student lounge. Now I can respect that full-time students – with part-time jobs no less – are in desperate need of a pick-me-up. Starbucks’ variety of caffeine coated assortments may very well help students focus on their studies, stimulate creativity and may have even prevented some consumers from falling asleep at the wheel.

But after walking past this establishment day after day, looking at the 30-some people they inevitably attract, all at the same time, I realized something. Their product isn’t an energy booster. It’s an accessory…at least for some. I truly believe that many people who dedicate the “limited free-time” of their hectic schedules to standing in line at Starbucks – let alone any coffee chain – are trying to make a statement about themselves. Perhaps they feel as though they look incomplete, walking through campus without that dollop of whipped cream covered in chocolate drizzle.

Let’s take it up a notch, shall we? This past summer, America added the ALS ice bucket challenge to the list of inane trends American youth would jump on the bandwagon to. The simple act of pouring frigid water over one’s self, then giving friends the ultimatum to either face the same doom or donate $100 to its research, became an overnight sensation. Don’t get me wrong. Occurrences such as this have proven to show the best in mankind. People are coming together, in hopes of bringing an end to a disease which has ripped friends and families apart. At least, some are.

It would seem as though many of those who participated in this particular trend were more determined to prove a sense of “oomph” in themselves to their co-workers and classmates more so than bringing an end to a serious health condition. After all, by pouring the icy cold liquid over one’s self, they were officially exempt from making a donation. And by looking at the long list of people who did take this road, I see an equally long list of people cradling their wallets. I must admit, I myself have never made all that much of a respectable donation in my life. Then again, at least I have the decency to refer to myself as a cheapskate instead of acting as though I’ve brought us one step closer to bringing Lou Gehrig’s disease to a close. Here’s an idea: donate a respectable $10 and don’t cascade yourself something that could induce hypothermia.

But perhaps I’ve only dissected the smaller issues of conformity. So here it is…

Conformity can be the difference between a high school student having only one punk harass him throughout the day and having a hoard of bullies taking turns pummeling him/her. Conformity is what often causes people to be onlookers, witnessing devastation without intervening, always to assume someone else will swoop in instead. And worst of all, it is conformity that often acts as a crutch in wars. When Hitler rose to power, did those in the Third Reich tell respond to his philosophy with “finally, this guy gets me”? Some, I’m sure. But others may have enlisted only to follow the paths of their siblings, their friends.

I do not spite those who routinely visit a popular coffee chain. I do not hold a grudge against those who occasionally feed the popularity of an internet meme. Not every lifestyle choice must be differ from those of every person you know. However, I feel as though most people have made it their mission to enjoy films, eat foods and wear clothes, with the hopes that none of which may alienate those who surround them.

I can only hope that I’m wrong.


One thought on “Conformity

  1. Thoughtful here, though I might suggest that you understand the degree to which you make assumptions about the people around you – remember that such assumptions zare inherently flawed because you are unaware of all the variables involved in other people’s lives. That said, the appeal of conforming is certainly one of the main motivators in people’s behavior, and marketers are quick to create “bandwagons” to catch waves of public attention.

    Critics of public persuasion will often warn about the dangers of such tactics – when you consider the historical events leading up to the Nazi domination of Germany, you can clearly see how propaganda was deliberately used to shape public opinion, and how public acceptance allowed an evil regime to murder millions and wage world war in the name of defending the honor and integrity of their country and culture. One can, perhaps, draw some parallels between the story of the Nazi’s and the story of the ALS ice-bucket challenge, but you need to be mindful of the reality and the consequences of each “movement.”

    I appreciate your perspective, but be careful of allowing your own bias to drive what should be objective analysis of discourse and events. Keep working!

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