The other day I bumped into a quote by John Fitzgerald Kennedy that stopped me in my tracks. With my mouth agape, I read, “Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.” For some reason, this quote by JFK had eluded me until now.
Perhaps only now, in my own personal development would I be impacted in such a direct way by the honesty and succinct nature of this quote. I began to wonder, when we conform, how much of our freedom and our personal growth do we forgo? What is the price that we pay by consciously or unconsciously conforming, if any? Ken Wilber, renowned prolific writer and consciousness map maker discusses in his Kosmic Consciousness CD-set that few people grow emotionally, intellectually and spiritually from their mid-twenties to their fifties. One has to wonder if this is because we are all busy chasing the trappings of conformity; possibly without even realizing it!
When I write about conformity and choosing not to conform, I’m not talking about reactive rebellion. Some types of rebellion do have a place in the world. We must rebel against cruel forces in the world. But rebelling, for the sake of rebelling, is just another trap. Rebellion of this type is another enemy of growth. Knee-jerk rebellion may look like growth to some; but it is only spurious growth. Non-conformity, in its healthiest form, is borne from reflection and consequent authentic expression.
The world is such a small place because of the internet, movie access, ubiquitous televisions and numerous television channels, magazines and global travel. Sometimes we don’t realize that our choices are made in attempt to be accepted and conform to these values, ideals and images. If we take a holiday from these reference points and spend time in reflection, we may come to different conclusions about how we want to express ourselves.
Charlotte Bronte wrote “Conventionality is not morality” nearly two hundred years ago. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GHD3ksfaUn8). However, her words remain powerful today. When we dissent from the dominant society or group, it may seem to them we are breaking a moral code. When people are brave enough to do something that is their own choice, separate from and perhaps unpopular with the masses, they are often seen as immoral. Even small gestures away from the conforming masses, may be a threat to them. When I think about the reactions I experienced from people when I dyed my hair blonde (huge mind-bending reactions), chose a new spiritual perspective, went to Europe, Australia, New York and Mexico alone,, grew waist length hair, home schooled my children, moved to a horse property, waited to have children, decided to pursue my Ph.D., etc… the reaction from many others wasn’t simply a “Why are you doing that” or “Oh, tell me more about that.” The responses I heard from many were along the lines of suggesting (to different degrees) that I was an immoral dissenter.
When we are judged by others for our non-conformity, we may be tempted to see these people as those who don’t really love us, or those who love us only very conditionally. What I’ve come to realize is that many of those who love us, don’t embrace our non-conformity not because they don’t love us, but because they fear they may lose us. They also fear they may lose the ability to relate to us and us to them. Maybe they fear they have done it (fill in the blank) or are doing it (fill in the blank) wrong. They may fear how others will respond to us now that we are acting differently from them. In fact, they may fear that our choices may be the beginning of choices that will separate us perhaps intellectually, emotionally, geographically and spiritually. In some ways, they may be right. Our love ones and communities may not get us, but the price to pay for blind conformity is a great one, most especially if we end up living someone else’s life.