FOR THE LOVE OF RELATIONSHIPS – Forced conformity

Forced conformity is the imposition of uniformity in thought, behavior, or appearance. It is a phenomenon that has pervaded our society. It reflects a suppression of individuality and diversity, often driven by societal norms, political ideologies, or authoritative establishments. 

At its core, forced conformity stifles individual expression and hinders personal growth. When individuals are compelled to conform to a particular set of beliefs or behaviors, they may suppress their unique perspectives and talents. This suppression not only limits personal expression but also diminishes the richness of many contributions. Creativity, innovation, and progress thrive in environments that allow individuals to speak freely without judgment, condemnation, or the threat of being ostracized from a group or even canceled.  

Historically, forced conformity has been a tool employed by authoritarian regimes to maintain control and quell dissent. Totalitarian governments often impose strict ideological conformity to solidify their power and suppress opposition. Citizens are coerced into conforming to a prescribed set of beliefs, and deviation from these norms is met with severe consequences. This manipulation of public opinion and behavior creates a society where dissent is stifled, and individual freedoms are curtailed. If an individual disagrees with the prevailing narrative, they get ostracized by the group and now feel like they do not belong. This is an effective manipulative tactic and is being utilized by many, especially in an election year when there are political talking points that those on one side or another must repeat often. 

In a democracy, this is dangerous. When this happens and groupthink prevails, critical thinking and common sense suffer. One might even question their feelings or opinions on matters of great importance. We must have critical thinking and many voices to be able to solve complex social challenges. Diversity of thought and experience are essential for addressing complex issues and adapting to changing circumstances.

On a personal level, the psychological impact of forced conformity is profound. When individuals are compelled to conform due to a mob mentality, it can lead to feelings of alienation, anxiety, and frustration. The suppression of thought makes one question oneself and their intellect. 

Recently traveling around Africa on a cruise, I sat next to a couple who disagreed with what one of the lecturers was saying about colonizers. During the question-and-answer period, they told me they were afraid to challenge the prevailing thought and ask a question. I encouraged them to speak their mind and elicit a dialogue. They overcame their fear and asked their questions. The audience responded negatively. I was incensed. How could these people be so rude? Defending this couple, I shared that they had every right to challenge what was being said and asked the audience to be respectful and open to a different point of view. 

Forced conformity poses significant challenges to both individuals and societies. It undermines personal freedom, stifles creativity, and creates environments ripe for manipulation by authoritarian forces. Embracing diversity of thoughts and opinions and allowing for the free expression of individuality is crucial for fostering resilient, adaptive, and compassionate societies. As we navigate the complexities of our national challenges, the recognition of the value of sharing ideas becomes a moral imperative and a pragmatic necessity for democracy and collective well-being. joneen@narme.org