“Most people are not even aware of their need to conform. They live under the illusion that they follow their own ideas and inclinations, that they are individualists, that they have arrived at their opinions as the result of their own thinking—and that it just happens that their ideas are the same as those of the majority.”
— Erich Fromm
I’m writing this during an 11 hour flight delay. Thank you all for inspiring me to do something constructive with my time here.
I want to spend this post looking at the phenomena of conforming, and how it can work in two different ways, both of which are massively diminishing to your overall life experience.
I’ve talked a lot about conditioning over the years, but when I talk about people actively wanting to conform with mainstream opinion, I feel like I’m describing something a little bit more overt in its application, versus the almost unwitting tendency to do what society has conditioned you to do.
As Eric Fromm described above, many people actually like to conform. They gravitate towards fitting in. Being a card carrying member of the good guys. By demonstrating their credentials as someone who stands on the right side of the dividing line, whatever that is perceived to be.
However, rather than allow themselves the latitude of being a follower, the only way they can feel like they have a meaningful sense of identity is to believe that they actually arrived at that view using their own individual insight and perception.
By doing that, they allow themselves the comfort blanket of a strong sense of identity and personal meaning, whilst subconsciously seeking the comfort blanket of not standing out from the crowd.
Now I think there are certain areas where having a mainstream sensibility makes perfect sense. For example, having mainstream tastes may not have anything to do with the need for psychological comfort.
It just happens to be the case that when you have a broad spectrum of offerings, there’s likely to be some kind of bell distribution to describe the popularity of different aspects of that spectrum. There’ll be a natural majority any time that happens.
But when people seek to flock around a view, and then vociferously champion why that view is important, and why other’s views are ‘wrong’, I’m always suspicious.
Because if they were a true free thinker, then their ideas would depart from the common thread in certain crucial ways. There would be some innovative twists to their overall portfolio of views.
And there would be some really sound rationale behind why they feel that view is worth listening to.
However, when it’s just regurgitated crap that could be spouted by any one of a thousand/million fellow sheep, and when there are gaping holes in their logic, in their philosophical consistency and coherency, one wonders how they legitimately arrived at that view?
Now this is where it gets interesting. Because they could have arrived at that view to ensure they enjoy the the safety of the herd.
But they could also have arrived at that view because of some unprocessed emotional woundings that have ended up being attached to certain viewpoints.
And at that point, it’s no longer about them conforming to the herd, and it becomes about them insisting the herd conforms to them and their views.
And if the individual/herd doesn’t conform to their view, they get angry, upset, disillusioned by this sense of unfairness.
Quite often the arguments are now purely emotive, or there is some kind of facile narrative that gets put forward to explain why their position is just and why everyone should self evidently follow it.
But dig a little deeper, and there’s often little hard substance that truly validates the observation. There is little philosophical coherence and quite often there are actually masses of contradictions in their position.
But their goal isn’t actually to present something that can withstand the rigour of Socratic inquiry, they just want something that enables them to feel a sense of self righteousness and to justify them staying in victim mode, and rigidity, and asking the world to conform/adapt to their sensibilities like a small child wanting mummy and daddy to always bend to their needs and wants.
So whilst the desire for unity is eminently laudable, one must take care to appreciate the diversity within the unity, to value difference, and to ensure that our viewpoints are actually consistent with what we truly (and independently) feel at the depth of our being, beyond all the wounds, to be true to our hearts and our souls, rather than our heads and our egos/shadows.
So next time you find yourself conforming to the consensus view, and talking forth on why it’s so precious and important, or feeling bitterness, anger, resentment or disillusionment that the consensus doesn’t conform to your view, take a moment to check in and see if the view you espouse is truly representative of who you are at your essence, or whether it’s just another layer of noise complicating your life and creating distance between you and what’s really important.
With love and openness
Will and the team xxx