By Shay Joshi
After seeing a woman who doesn’t shave her legs or wear makeup, we usually react with the exclamation, “that’s so cool” or “what a queen!” and even “we should not have to trouble ourselves for others.” Later, we find ourselves shaving our legs and wearing makeup as we get ready to head out.
In the past, any discourse that veered from status quo was disgraced. Since the cultural revolution starting in the 1960s, people, in general, have become more willing to accept changes and deviate from the existing state of social and political issues. While social media activity and mainstream reactions might paint a world of unity, the attitude of the average man and woman remains static: we praise those who refuse to conform, but we are unwilling to take those risks ourselves.
Research has shown that there is a direct relationship between the number of risks individuals take and their self-confidence. In addition, there is also a direct relationship between the number of rapid judgements individuals make and their levels of self-confidence and self-image. At a recent survey at Georgetown University, 74% of college females and 46% of college males reported being unhappy with their weight or appearance. These feelings could, as a result, cause people to avoid listening to their non-conformist urges. Therefore, in order to blend in with the majority, one must adhere to the social codes placed by past generations, while simultaneously adapting to the new codes of universal acceptance placed by current generations. Therein lies the incongruity of current human nature. The struggle between wanting to be accepted by society by blending in and praising those that are different in order to continue being accepted by society. Therefore, the paradoxical nature of humans is more prevalent in today’s day and age than ever before.
Take Soloman Asch’s conformity experiment in 1951, where in a group of at least 3 actors, one regular participant had to go against the actor’s answers. The experiment included the researcher asking the group to match a line’s (X) length to one of 3 lines of differing lengths. The actors would always agree on the answers they gave, whether correct or incorrect. The interesting results lied in those trials where the actors purposefully gave the wrong answer, waiting to see if the real participant would give in, against their original and correct answers, and provide an incorrect answer in order to fit into the majority. In 12 of the 18 trials, the actors all said the same wrong answer, and 75% of the time the real participants conformed to the wrong answer at least once. The point of referencing the experiment in this argument is to highlight the ease with which humans are able to change their beliefs in order to conform. If three-fourths of the real participants were able to change their answers about matching clearly different lines in order to be accepted, think about how easy it would be for us to change our beliefs about concepts that require more thought, such as others’ actions or appearances. In order to conform, like the real participants, we change our beliefs to fit what is expected of us. Our modern reaction to difference in others is through complete acceptance. In addition, even if we would like to take risks, we change our beliefs in order to be accepted by acting “normally.”
While keyboard warriors will always exist, most individual’s online activity involves displays of public acceptance of the non-conformists. People may argue against these statements by claiming there are a plethora of reasons why individuals avoid taking the risks that others take. One reason would be that shaving, putting on makeup, or conforming to other traditional notions helps individuals feel more confident. Nevertheless, self-confidence is built internally and should not be dependent on external factors. However hated the new “snowflake” culture might be for some people, it’s a reality. In actuality, the foundation, accepting people for who they are, is almost universally expected. Nonetheless, raising others up is a great ideology when it’s genuine. With this culture of political correctness, however, there are many who feel the need to praise those breaking the status-quo without actually meaning it, or ever having the audacity to take the risk themselves.
The remedy for the paradox is simple in idea: become comfortable enough in your own skin to take risks, genuinely believe in your compliments toward others’ bravery, and have the confidence to carve your own path. The reality of such a change requires self-acceptance for every part of yourself. This means going out without changing any part of yourself, even if you claim it makes you more confident. Students, especially those at a young age, feel an immense amount of pressure to be like others and, at times, pressure to find a way to stand out. What we, as students, should learn is that we do not need to please anyone but ourselves. There is no reason to praise others when we do not mean the praise. There is no reason to chastise someone for doing something we’re too afraid to do. Every one of us is different, and we need to learn to embrace that. We must be able to be confident with ourselves without any braces as support and without giving into peer or student body pressures. By morphing into such people, we have a way of escaping the herd mentality of conformity, and embracing an authentic promotion of diversity in others and ourselves.