Monday, January 17, 2011

Change vs. Conformity

Change versus Conformity

by D. Adams

January 17, 2011/07

“You are so young, my son, and, as the years go by, time will change and even reverse many of your present opinions. Refrain therefore awhile from setting yourself up as judge of the highest matters.” — Plato

The nature of this article will cover the topics and definitions of change and conformity. What is change is it merely conforming to another’s ideals concerning proper behaviors? Or can change only be brought on after a life-changing event where one is forced to re-evaluate their worldview, connecting to reality?

The Spark

What really prompted this article was a discussion I had recently with my wife during a lunch outing. We were discussing a broad-brushing statement that we could not really comprehend as logical or as a stand-alone ideology. The statement went like this: “People do not change, they merely conform.” This vague and negative connotation has no real meaning in and of itself. The statement is an oversimplification of two terms put into a generalized statement. It does not qualify as a universal axiom, nor should anyone readily accept this maxim without further qualifications. It is imperative to think critically, but not be over-critical but define our terms, and then make our statements.

What is change

“To improve is to change. To be perfect is to change often.” — Winston Churchill

Change is defined as (noun):
  1. An event that occurs when something passes from one state or phase to another
  2. A relational difference between states; especially between states before and after some event
  3. The result of alteration or modification

Change is defined as (verb):

  1. Undergo a change; become different in essence; losing one's or its original nature
  2. Cause to change; make different; cause a transformation
  3. Make or become different in some particular way, without permanently losing one's or its former characteristics or essence

The definition of the term change will depend on how the term is used in a sentence. Some may loosely assert (overgeneralize) that a change is always bad, and others that a change is always good. Without specifying the term, the term can be quite vague. Change itself can be either good or bad—change for the better, or change for the worse. This is where the term change can be relative but the term itself does not necessarily warrant a relative view.

It would be impractical to state that change only arises through a life-changing experience, or by mere conformity. Take for example someone that openly decides to break out of a normalcy of his or her situation. Let’s say a person decides to change their eating habits, is this always brought about by a near-death experience? Resoundingly, we cannot always assume that one changes their eating habits because they are given an ultimatum (life over death). Surely, one can recognize the advantages of eating healthy and the health risks involved through improper nutrition.

The decision to change eating habits may not be to conform to the statistics or merely the science behind these precepts, but to no longer conform to his or her desires to eat in a non-healthy manner. Maybe this person has the desire to be a role model for their children, and decide to make changes that will affect them positively as well.

Some of the pros:
  • Without change, in essence, there can be no measure of progress or regress
  • Change allows for progress
  • To shift from despair or error, takes change
  • Without change, a worker will not earn more money (through a pay increase)
  • Change can take you out of a slump
  • Change affects others (lifting of others in a positive sense)
  • Change can allow for visions to become reality (finances, new career, abundant lifestyle, achieving goals)
  • Change can break one free from conformity (defined later)

Now the Cons:
  • Change can make matters worse (a negative change for the worse)
  • Change involves a new way of thinking (when viewed in a negative sense)
  • Change may affect you (in a negative sense push you out of your comfort zone)
  • Change may implore more responsibility onto you (from others)
  • Change may invoke social drag from friends, family, etc (interconnected people may want to drag you back to the old you)
  • Change may involve opposition, or uncertainty of future events
  • Change may involve risk taking

There are many other examples to be added to both pro and con lists, but often change takes place simply because one is tiresome of their present conditions or they simply want to break free of conforming to a status quo or a mindset instilled by ones self, peers, or family members. If you are not presently jubilant or joyful in your situation, change will move you from that situation.
But what hampers or blocks one to change?

Environmental Blocks

In our society today, certain pressures can stem from media, parents, religion, advertisements, peers, etc. You have heard of the saying “keeping up with the Jones’s” right. With a score of credit card companies, offering cash back rewards or introductory reduced interest rates, it is difficult not to conform to their programming. Often we fall prey to keeping up with a status quo that keeps us in debt up to our eyeballs just to make it seem as if we are truly in competition to achieve more material items. The sad reality is that once we are gone, we cannot take it with us.

Sometimes the media tends to make us conform to a mantra of gloom and doom, that there may not be any hope. These individuals may see the worst side being portrayed as the dominate reality on news broadcasts. With the infestation of tabloids, blogs, and opinions being rampant on the internet, it can be difficult to distinguish fact from fiction. Often fiction is held in a higher regard than fact within the internet realm. Some of these fictitious accounts are debunked or recanted, and other times they are simply left to simmer, hoisted by those of less intellect.

One of the biggest topics today has to be the Global Warming theory. The global warming theorist urges people to conform to this theory and sell their SUV’s, switch to solar power, or buy ethanol. Maybe a celebrity is whom we measure our lives. Maybe it’s the conforming to commercial advertisements of expensive clothing that we purchase that makes us feel part of a group. The goal of this article is not to discuss such matters, but to make awareness that change can be good and conformity can be bad in some cases. In the case of global warming, remember a theory can never be proven as truth. A theory can have quasi-facts but once a theory is fully-proven, it becomes fact, law, and often accepted as common knowledge.

People blocks

Certainly, others can block or hinder our progress. It seems as if family members or peers can have a negative effect on our thinking process. These terms can be defined such as:

·         You can not perform that work
·         You are not disciplined enough to accomplish that
·         You are not smart enough to do that
·         You need to have a degree for that

When repeated enough, one starts to behave as if these are absolutes. Maybe you have heard the old saying “I think therefore I am.” The sad fact is that oftentimes the person invoking these words also lives by these words. They tend to project their thinking upon us as if an authoritative. Ask yourself this question, is this person merely telling us that they cannot perform these tasks themselves. Is this veritably, what we want to have instilled upon us. Take a good look at this person, are they in a position to pass judgment onto anyone else. Needless to say that; “Those in glass houses should not throw stones.”

Concerning the people blocks listed, we have two choices, 1) we conform to this montage, or 2) we invoke change, and no longer conform to this state of affairs. It is true that we could evoke a third option of merely ignoring the people blocks. However, this does nothing to change the situation and only makes the naysayer looks as they are an utterer of truth. Option three indeed would classify people that do not change but only conform. [1]

It is also true that we are competitive in nature and judgmental which can easily lead us to evaluating others and their ideas. We do this even when we consciously know the caustic effect it will have on them. Remember that often people will despise change so much, that they will distance themselves from you. They know that if you change, they too will also ingest change. Maybe the change is only in how they view you, or sometimes the change will necessitate them delving out of their comfort zone. Sometimes change is good when it comes to a negative Nancy.

Internal blocks

The final and most insidious sources of creative blocks are we ourselves. The internal voice that warns us of the dangers of unconventional thoughts can hinder us from moving forward. As we discussed earlier, people blocks could have instilled this subconsciously into our own rationale. Sometimes our worst enemy is our self. Uncertainty can be a huge factor on whether someone chooses to change or merely conform (status quo). There are conditions that heighten or thrive on such thinking.

According to Anxiety Disorders Resource Center One and a half percent of the population (or 4,045,627 people), are afflicted with panic attacks. I too have suffered from severe panic attacks, some that have landed me into an emergency room. I have also suffered in the past from agoraphobia. Concisely anxiety attacks often stem out of a fear of a fear. This may not make sense to the outsider, but those who suffer from this disorder, it is very real. Certainly negative thinking will intensify panic attacks, the only way to change is to conform to the doctors and take medication or change your thinking. I was on medication for awhile but then I chose the latter; it has saved me lots of time, money, and aggravation.

Uncertainty of certain outcomes often deters someone from change. There is the overwhelming tendency to become comfortable (without change) within a particular lifestyle. If the lifestyle is truly comfortable and joyful then the mindset is not to change. What one views as ideal, someone else may not view as ideal. Once we intermingle with others, often times we want what others have. Sometimes one must put forward a method of change to reach a new level, but sometimes change is not easy. Frequently the comfort zone you think you are in is not a comfort zone, but you have merely rejected a change and have conformed to a status quo.

Common excuses against change:
·         It would be too much work (AKA “lazybones”)
·         I don’t have the time to dedicate (AKA “poor time manager”)
·         I can’t (sometimes this term is not defined)
·         What if I fail (as if you would be the first person to ever fail at anything)
·         I do not feel good today (Do you really have an illness)

This short list is some of the most common redactions against change. So what if you fail, would it be that detrimental that you would never try it again. Imagine a world where we were perfect, in a sense, and failure never occurred. Do you think we would be more successful or less successful in life? The reality is we do not live in a perfect world and we often learn from mistakes or failures. For some, this is the only way to learn simply because they do not heed advice from others with experience (conform).

Is it really too much work to change or is it due to a lack of self confidence. Simply stating “I can’t” is equivalent to “I won’t” (not even try). Surely if you are truly handicapped mentally or in some cases physically (paraplegic, or similar) handicapped then the I can’t chant is validated. Let’s face it some of us just like to take the easy way out and merely justify our reasoning without a logical or valid reason.

What is Conformity

  1. Be similar, be in line with
  2. Adapt or conform oneself to new or different conditions

Conformity itself can be a good thing, take for example conforming to laws set in place against murder. If the majority of people chose not to conform to these laws, then murder could be more rampant than it is today. Some will not conform to the laws but will conform to their selfish desires and the outcome can be disastrous.

  • to standards makes for consistency
  • to laws makes for a more peaceable lifestyle

  • can be stagnant in a negative sense (creative blocks, no room for growth)
  • can lead to troublesome situations (financial, emotional, spiritual)
  • can lead to isolation (cultist behaviors)

Occasionally conformity may infer that a colleague may have revised his or her own attitude, and you alter yours to be more in line with them. Nevertheless, this conformity does not take place without a change being involved. Certainly one should consider this revision after careful scrutiny, not merely to conform to fit in or to appease others. Oftentimes, a child can merely hold a belief or faith based upon this being handed down to them. When this child grows into adulthood, they may or may not keep with these beliefs. We hear of such events regarding religion, occupation, child-rearing, lifestyle, and so on. These beliefs can be based upon reason, logic, reasonable doubt, or they can be held on false premises or by vicarious dissonance.

Vicarious Dissonance

Vicarious Dissonance is an attitude change brought about by the inconsistency of others. Vast research has been performed in this area. This hypothesis suggests that people who share a common rank, and who feel strongly identified with their peers, tend to take on the characteristics, emotions, and motivations of the group's prototypical member.

For example, if someone acts in such a way that produces dissension in him or her, it will also produce dissension in others. During the process one may not act in an attitude discrepant fashion, however they can experience pressure to change their own attitudes. It seems as if a rule of cause-and-effect is being informally represented here.

This vicarious dissonance can also be demonstrated by a discomfort. The discomfort can be felt by imagining feeling compassion towards someone. The old adage of “walking in another’s shoes” can revise attitudes. For example, a person with skin cancer can be more convincing that sun block can be helpful in preventing such causes. This is not to say that sun blocks will necessarily prevent skin cancer, but it can help prevent such cases. Would this claim seem more convincing coming from an actor, or maybe someone with skin cancer (past or present) that you could empathize.

Most of our thinking processes are brought into a stalemate when such statements are carried out. We can either go on with our lives, or see the need for awareness of a reality that exists whether we want to believe it or not. This is being objective.

People do not change, they merely conform

In essence, this statement can never be truly held as a universal axiom. Unless we are truly all-knowing, we can never know all people or the reasons why they change or conform. Change can come from conformity but people do not merely conform in order to change. It should be noted that it would be hard to conform unless a change is involved. If one is already committed to conform, it most likely will not involve a change. If one is merely going along to conform, then truly they are not really conforming. We can find this sometimes within Christianity and other religions or beliefs. We can claim to be Christians, but if we are not showing the fruit, then are we really Christians at all.

It has been proven that people can change through life experiences, religion, and near death experiences just to name a few. Some assume that there is conformity to these precepts, but actually, in reality no one is truly dragging them. Remember that a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still. There may be some conformity involved with change but conformity is typically not the exclusive reasoning process behind change.[2]

[1] This is the main subject of the article. People do not change, they only conform. In this case, it would be a true statement.
[2] See footnote #1 in regards to: People do not change, they merely conform.