Non-Conformists Conform

Brian: Look, you’ve got it all wrong! You don’t need to follow me, you don’t need to follow anybody! You’ve got to think for yourselves! You’re all individuals!
The Crowd (in unison): Yes! We’re all individuals!
Brian:  You’re all different!
The Crowd (in unison): Yes, we are all different!
Man in Crowd: I’m not.           (The Life of Brian)

People care what others think about them. In fact they usually care a lot, more than they care to admit. Since caring less is considered admirable in our society, people often say and signal that they care less than others care. But I think it is misleading to talk in terms of conformists, who care lots what others think, versus individualists, who care less.

It sees to me that while people do vary in conformity, this variation is less in how much folks care about others’ evaluations, and more about which others they care about. “Conformists” tend to care about a common standard status audience – a usual mix of people weighted by a standard status. “Non-conformists,” in contrast, “march to the beat of a different drummer” by caring about non-standard status audiences.

For example, as an adolescent I seem to have deeply internalized the idea of great scientists/visionaries as heroes. I long judged my efforts by their standards – what would increase the chance that I would become such a person, or be approved by one. Marching to the beat of this unusual status audience drummer often led me to “non-conform” by doing things that less impressed folks around me. But I very definitely wanted to impress someone.

This seems to be the case with most interesting “non-conformists” I know.   They are human, and surely care deeply about the opinions of others. But their special care for the opinions of particular others often leads them to disapproval by ordinary others. Sometimes you can’t please everyone, and must choose whom to please. It seems to me that the main difference between folks is that “non-conformists” try to please less standard audiences.  Viva la difference.

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