An older friend of mine from my local church shared with me a brief, yet interesting life story not long ago. He was raised in Mongolia, but moved to Japan, Korea, attended universities in Russia and Germany, and is finally now here, in America. Altogether he knows six languages fluently, with English being his latest language to attempt. He said to me in a rough accent and with some struggle, “Japanese, no problem. Russian, easy. English…impossible.” We have a funny language and even we don’t use it very well, and yet we still manage to get the message across. However, over time, we have lost the true meaning of some of our words, some are frequently used with negative undertones, and others get used far to often.
This is why I have begun the series Word Rescue, and soon I will start Word Police. Some words get a bad rap even when it’s quite undeserving. We will start this off with a Word Rescue of a commonly shunned word: Conformity or to Conform.
To be somewhat brief, let’s think about what “to conform” really implies. Historically, we see it often as being rounded up into a certain protocol, way of thought, way of doing things, etc. Conformity needs a little slack in this matter. Every day each and every one of us is conforming in one way or another and we’re totally okay with it. We conform to standing in a neat line. We follow traffic signals. As kids we followed a bed time. Conformity is not necessarily compulsory. Technically, you can cut in line, you can disobey traffic signals, or you or your kids could resist bed-time. You will notice a theme of disobedience, but that disobedience is only the result of our attempt to conform to a standard that we all agreed upon.
What’s important in this is that freedom is not technically lost or forfeited through conformity. Rather, to conform more often than not, we are using our freedom to choose to follow a standard we have agreed upon. Where we run into problems is the conforming to standards or values that are not in the best interest of the individual, or a poor allocation of freedom.
So that presents the question, should we encourage people to conform? Depends on the context of course. But for many cases, absolutely! There are some truths that we all agree upon. We agree upon them because we recognize that that standard, value, choice, or what have you is the best application of our freedom, and will warrant the best consequences. Therefore, in the interest of helping our fellow-man, we encourage conformity.
Conformity still requires care, however, for many might convince you one way or another that a certain option is better than the other. This could even include things like allocation of time in the day, dating standards, etc. For example, I have chosen not to drink alcohol because I conform to a religious standard which I have found to be extremely positive. Others, however might encourage conforming to a raucous drinking lifestyle as a way to fun and peace. Is that necessarily good? The stated consequences sound good, but other consequences may still exist.
Conformity: A word we typically resist, and yet we use in action every day for good.