A message that shouts loudly to us and has resonated through our culture for centuries is that of non-conformity.
From inspirational transcendentalist writers like Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson to the counterculture hippies of the 1960s to the individualists of today, many have encouraged the idea of creating oneself and not appeasing the demands of mainstream society.
I've often heard the word "conform" referred to with a negative connotation. For many of my teen years, I believed conformity to be a shallow act done with the sole intent of gaining acceptance. Then I realized that isn't always true. In fact, it is impossible not to conform to someone, something or some group.
Throughout life we make decisions about who we hang out with, what kind of entertainment we enjoy, what spiritual or religious beliefs we possess, etc. We begin to shape our lives around the environment we're in, and without even thinking about it, we begin a type of conformation.
The exciting part is we choose what we conform to, what we become. Hopefully we are true to our conscience and ourselves when we go through this process, because conformity can be dangerous. Pressures to be a certain way and live a certain life come from every direction. When choosing what ideologies we will follow, we need not base our decisions primarily on what will gain us cool points or move us up the popularity totem pole. It would be ideal to base our decisions on what we believe is right. At times, that might require going against the grain, conforming against conformists.
Who we are as individuals is greatly the sum of the attitudes, character traits and traditions we've seen in others and assumed upon ourselves. A quirky phrase a friend says, the clothes our BFF wears and the music our peers listen to start rubbing off on us.
What makes us unique individuals is how and to what extent we use the traits and traditions society directs toward us.
In an attempt to illustrate this, I'm going to compare humans to popular breakfast foods. In an obscure way, we have similarities to items straight from an IHOP menu -- pancakes and waffles to be more exact. It sounds strange, but hopefully it will make sense in the end.
A recipe for old-fashioned pancakes requires: 1 1/2 cups flour, 3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 1/4 cups milk, 1 egg and 3 tablespoons butter.
A recipe for classic waffles calls for: 2 cups flour, 4 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1 1/2 cups milk, 2 eggs and 1/3 cup butter.
No, this isn't part of cooking class, and yes, I did Google pancake and waffle recipes.
Let's take a look at these two recipes. Interestingly enough, the exact same ingredients used to make pancakes are also used to make waffles. Yet one recipe produces a light, fluffy delicacy while the other creates a crisp, crunchy treat. It doesn't take rocket science to figure out the difference lies in the quantity of ingredients and how the batter is prepared and cooked.
Alterations can be made and toppings or additional ingredients added to make the breakfast treats more unique and special, but the base ingredients remain the same.
We experience similar pressures, influences and challenges as the people around us. How we embellish those experiences and shape our thoughts and actions around them helps define us as our own individual person. Conformity in one way or another is inevitable, but what makes it a problem is when we aimlessly follow the crowd.
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