Conformity is so normalized, we are barely aware of it when we bow to safe, established standards. It’s like a river that wants to stay on its regular course, since altering that course may cause all kinds of unanticipated upsets, flooding, and chaos.
But maybe a little chaos is exactly what you need to reboot your internal hard drive. Zen masters would give a monk a slap if they saw him getting too cozy on the cushion. If you are alive, it can be good to wake up, ask yourself what rules you are conforming to — and why?
We invite you to join us in deviating from your norm and trying something out of your comfort zone. For example, if you wear casual clothing every day, try putting on something ostentatious: say, a hooded cape or a butterfly hat. Even better, try mimicking Katy Perry’s outfit from her evening of Met Gala-vanting. If you’re thinking of taking a vacation, close your eyes, spin a globe and pick a spot. Before you have time to reconsider, book the flight immediately. (Short on money? use a map of the surrounding counties in your area.)
Stuck at the office? How about turning your supervisor’s desk drawer into a fish tank? Or if the boss already has an expensive fish tank that he spends an inordinate amount of time tending to, put a plastic figurine of a skeleton in it and see how long it takes him to notice.*
Of course, if you decide to tell your friends about your actions, prepare for the social pushback you’ll receive. “You’re going to do what?!” “Don’t you need to get permission for that?” “If you were going to __________, don’t you think you would have done it before now?”
Take their admonishments in stride. They remain asleep and are startled by your awakening. Let their incredulousness be your motivation!
Remember, there is immense social pressure to conform and stay in one’s habitual role. Admittedly, without this willing conformity, civilization as we know it would collapse. If nobody showed up for defined tasks, social order would fall apart in a matter of days. But the conformity of narrowly defined jobs, activities, and labels can foster a lumpy, dysmorphic sterility in culture, where it can be hard to find the new.
Japan demonstrates some of this particular creativity problem in the popular Japanese saying “出る釘は打たれる” or, in English “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.”
*Note: properly clean the skeleton before placing in tank, lest the bacteria kill off the sensitive longnose hawkfish and royal gramma. Should this happen, it could be grounds for dismissal. (Which might actually be a much better fate than continuing to abide by a fishy boss anyhow.)