Deviance and Conformity

Publish Date
Principles Series
Last Edit
Apr 3, 2022 01:48 PM
Word Count
Order ID
Let’s consider any group of people to be a society, and you are one of its members. You are a member of a whole bunch of societies: your immediate family, your extended family, various friend groups, community organizations, employers, and beyond.
No matter how large or small the society is, there will be differences between yourself and the group. In each case where you differ, you get to choose how to react. On the agreeable end, you can change your views to conform to the group norm. And on the disagreeable end, you can tell them that they should, or must, change. If you were to try to find the balance between these two extremes, it’d likely be in acceptance: recognizing that you are different and keeping it that way, but also not actively pushing the group to change.
We can all probably recall times where we’ve used each of those approaches, or something towards each end. Maybe you’ve never cursed out a person or a group over a difference (hopefully not!), but you’ve almost certainly had a group that you’ve fallen out-of-touch with because you diverged from the group.
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And of course, there’s not a catch-all answer to which one you should do when you deviate from a group. We all do all three and we all vary where we fall on the spectrum based on the situation.
But what we should note is the trade-off that’s being made in our heads.
When we make those decisions, the balance that we’re walking is this: conformity is low risk, at least in the short run. It removes any chance of confrontation and generally makes the society happier. Yay, we all get along!
Pushing for change is harder. It’s effort intensive. And it carries large risks. You can fail, piss people off, and have a falling out or get kicked out of the society. We evolved to treat such a risk as deadly – because for much of human existence it was just that. Put another way, we’ve evolved to be agreeable.
At this point, you’d say it would be crazy to push for change. Why bother? Conform, fit in, and everything will be okay. It would seem to be a pretty good strategy for survival, especially if we then help to enforce the group norm and ensure that others make the same choice we did.
I have one word for these people: boring. You’ve all met them, and once you have them pegged you can predict what they’ll say and do with amazing accuracy.
But being the disagreeable in the room carries with it great rewards if you are successful in changing the group. An entrepreneur finds wealth by changing a market. A member or employee gains power and influence within an organization. A *cringe* politician sways support his or her way. Or someone just gets the satisfaction of knowing that they changed the world (hopefully) for the better.
Of course, it is worth noting that style matters with being a disagreeable. Soft pressure often works better than hard. Excoriation almost never works. And building any real change in a community takes time.
But that said, many don’t put in that effort. Many conform. And conformity won’t change the world. It won’t create any lasting value. It’s a drug: it’ll feel good in the moment but will waste your life. So get out there and be a disagreeable.