Non-conforming or non-conformant?

I have always prided myself on being independent. It comes easily and naturally to me.

Yet lately (okay, the past year or so – but I’m a slow thinker), I’ve been pondering if I am actually as independent as I think I am or if I am simply non-conformant. In other words, given the specifications for a human being, do I fall on the extreme edges or maybe even outside the normal parameters – like a widget that is the wrong shape or size or colour or consistency or whatever?

I have never met a person who thought they were anything other than free-willed and independently minded. I have never met anyone who said to me, “I am a sheep. I haven’t an independent thought in my head.”

Yet, from my vantage point, people behave in remarkably similar ways – like watching a school of fish swim in unison. I often wonder why did everyone just zig or zag? Obviously there is something (or many things) I am not plugged into.

This is more than simple preferences, for example, preferring grey sweaters over rainbow coloured sweaters.

Why do so many people claim to Hotel California – when it is clear to me that an hour of nails scratching a blackboard would be infinitely more enjoyable.

Yet, I can’t keep believing that people pretend to like it. I have to accept that they genuinely do.

So, back to my original question: am I truly independent? Or am I simply a non-conformant human being?

I prefer to believe myself as independent, yet, I act and react in predictable ways – just as other people do (although, my behavior is atypical and outside).

If I am non-conformant then my beliefs about being independent are an illusion – I am different not because I am independent, but because I am out of spec.

Image grabbed from here.

[Note: I am picking on Hotel California because I really do hate it, but I could have just as easily picked Elton John, Phil Collins or B.B. King. I love blues, but B.B. King has a characteristic guitar style that just irritates me. I once had to endure listening to Hotel California 6 times during an audio demonstration at the science centre – I thought I would go mad! Normally, I Would have left, but I had brought the kids to see an exhibit on sound not knowing the torture I would endure. Sigh.]


While I was at my guitar lesson last night, my guitar teacher suggested that he would like for me to work on a solo portion of Hotel California...he said it would be a beneficial exercise, regardless of the fact that he is also very "over it" (as far as the song goes). Of course your post was the first thing to come to mind! :)

I agree, I don't know anyone who has ever proclaimed themselves to be sheep-like, and most do fancy themselves as independent thinkers, but based on what I know about you, I'd still predict that you are much more of an independent thinker than most (myself included). I like to think of myself as independent, but I do (unfortunately) fall prey to worrying about "what other people think" sometimes, so I imagine I do have a bit of conformity about me (though hopefully it is minimal).
Colleen said…
I enjoyed this post because this is what I see every day. Not one person I know can do things and actually mean what they say unless they check in with someone or go on hearsay.
I think in every independent person, there will be so form of conformity, maybe not by choice, but by the invisible hand manipulating the society. You can be independent in many ways - decision making, your thoughts, your beliefs, your value systems, your likes and dislikes.... but sometimes, we are forced to conform because of certain rules and standards that were set in place to keep people in check. Built within us is another system that checks us, and that thingy is known as conscience.

So as much as we like to go against the norm, do what we want, there are times in order to avoid conflict, we conform instead of rebel. Why do we need to study? Why do we have to work? Why can't we do what we want? Why can't I be successful without money?

Why can't anyone forgo all responsibilities and do things that fulfils all our desires? Why must we consider other people's feelings? Can't I make my own independent choices, irregardless of what consequences there may be?

Expectations of society, family and friends maybe?

Our own standards maybe? Internal pressure? Religion? Conscience?

Maybe independence should be seen apart from conformity. It's a choice to be independent as much as it is a choice to conform or not.

We choose to conform for various reasons, sometimes reasons that we don't even agree with. We choose to be independent cos we do not want to follow the herd. We wanna be different. And we could more possibly do that because the consequences are probably more insignificant.

Conforming may not make us a brainless sheep, but rather, "victims of circumstance". Similarly, being an independent free-spirited individual does not makes us any more a rebel, but rather someone with a mind of his own.

I guess, many things in life are not clearly black and white. They are more often than not, shades of grey.

So we ought to stand by the values and principles we believe in to maintain our independence, and let go of insignificant issues and go with the flow, so that we would not seem petty, or go against the system simply because we want to be non-conformant. It's probably a futile effort trying to categorize yourself into these two extreme poles.

AS long as we are not a solo act, our actions and words will always have an impact on people, on strangers and on the society, companies, friends and families who are milling around us. I guess Independence and Conforming just have to be intricately managed to maintain that balance.
Lunafish said…
And still those voices are calling from far away
Wake you up in the middle of the night
Just to hear them say:

"Baaaaaaaaa" (Tell Me Clarice, are the Lambs Still Screaming?)

I like that line "I am a sheep. I haven't an independent thought in my head." I think I will start using that when anyone asks, "so, what do you think?"
Richard said…
Thanks for your comments. I have thought about commenting on them for several days, but … can’t really think of anything meaningful to respond with.

I still feel it is important to acknowledge your comments though – since I always enjoy reading them.

I was just musing out loud (and indirectly) about free will. Is it real? Or is it an illusion? Until a year ago, I was a hardcore non-determinist in the vein of Sartre "We are condemned to be free". So, in terms of person responsibility and accountability, I was pretty much on the extreme right end of the spectrum (which nicely balanced out with my leftist view on social obligations and responsibilities). But, about a year ago, my mindset changed, and currently I ponder if free will is real or not.
carra said…
I don't intend to say that I am anything like you, because you are far beyond my intellect, but I feel different to that extreme, that when I go to a job interview I am myself and don't say what people expect me to say, this could be one of the reason's I haven't got a job, but I want to be accepted for who I am... I was having a chat with a friend today and she was asking me about diets and so on, rather than being polite and pretending to be interested I stated I have no interest in those matters because there are much more interesting things in life to do, than count calories! I don't care what people think or say, because if they don't like me I'll show them where the door is. I noticed since I opened myself for who I really I am, I am creating a circle of people who really like me for who I am. I don't think myself different from others I am far too egoistic for that, I simply think that I am one and only like that and I love it. Does it matter at the end of the day whether you're "independent" or "non-conforming" it is simply a label applied by people who can't think outside the box. We all want to be independent and free but most of us don't have the guts to do it.
Richard said…
carra: I agree, be yourself. My thoughts were just that everyone claims to be independent, yet, from my point of view, I notice that they seem to be much more conformant that I would expect independent people to be. This was my attempt at an explanation from an evolutionary point of view.

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