Just Another Brick
in the Wall
Conformity vs. Individuality in Today’s Society
Jocks, nerds, goths, cheerleaders – every high school has its various cliques that students try to place themselves in. Each student faces a point during those four years when he or she must decide whether to live up to society’s standards or to show everyone his or her true self. Today’s society does not make that decision easy because of the increased pressure to fit in with everyone else. However, sooner or later, every student approaches a difficult conflict: succumb to conformity or embrace individuality.
Students must constantly try to express themselves in a world that pushes them further from that goal. If someone attempts to live up to society’s standards, he or she becomes the source of criticism for trying too hard or for becoming a follower. However, a person gets pushed aside if he or she stands out too much and does not fit the ideals of society.
“It’s easier to conform because there’s less of a chance of being considered an ‘outcast,’” said senior Daniel Carbone.
Society constantly tells teens to embrace their individuality, yet they get judged if they stand out too much. They try to fit in, but then they receive criticism for conforming to society’s high standards. For most students, the want for acceptance drives most of their decisions. According to psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the urge to belong and get accepted by society is one of the basic needs in life, which essentially leads to happiness if one fulfills each of these needs.
“Maslow’s theory is largely correct,” said University of Illinois psychology professor Ed Deiner, who has conducted various in-depth studies of Maslow’s ideas. “In cultures all over the world, the fulfillment of his proposed needs correlates with happiness.”
However, trying to conform too much to society’s ideals causes students to lose sight of their true self. The pressure to fit in in high school distracts teens from becoming their own person because they overly involve themselves in the ideals of society. Focusing too much on the opinions of others causes them to lose sight of their personal values by, either voluntarily or unconsciously, taking in the preferred views of the masses, according to a blog on Paid to Exist.
“We all live our lives in a giant melting pot of borrowed ideas,” said journalist Johnathan Mead.
If a girl likes Starbucks and wears Uggs, people label her as “basic.” If someone wears a lot of black and listens to punk rock, people call him or her an “emo.” If someone genuinely enjoys learning about quantum physics and knows every line to every single Star Wars movie, people see him or her as a “nerd.” Society constantly pushes people away from embracing their individuality by judging them for standing out too much.
“Society wants everyone to be the same and do the same thing which in essence, blocks out individuality,” said senior Carlos Quiroz.
In today’s world, most teenagers care more about fitting in than truly expressing themselves because of society’s tendency to criticize people who stray too far from the norm. When someone stands out too much, the instinct to judge and ostracize them kicks in, swaying them from completely embracing their true image.
“People care more about fitting in because they don’t want to cause any reason to be noticed,” said senior Brice Reyes.
The greater awareness of the conformity that society constantly enforces encourages students to reject the pressure to succumb to everyone’s standards. More teenagers have begun to embrace their true self rather than hide their individuality in order to please society. However, many teens still find the pressure to fit in a difficult conflict to overcome. Professor Noam Shpancer of Otterbein
University suggests that most people unconsciously conform just to avoid the criticisms of society.
“We are often not even aware when we are conforming,” said Shpancer. “It is our home base, our default mode.”
The problem with most teenagers lies with their tendency to care too much about the opinions of others. Wondering about what others will think and letting that affect one’s decision strips a student of his desire to embrace his true self. More often than not, a teen will step back from his true wants because he fears what others will think.
“Society tells us to be one thing – to be accepted – making those who
are individualistic afraid to embrace it,” said Carbone.
In her article, “A Former Geek Offers Hope,” Judith Newman refers to high school as “more rigid and conformist than the military.” The modern cliques present in every high school sway students to believe that they must place themselves in a particular group and that if they do not fit in with any of those cliques, they get marked as outcasts. The pressure to look and act like everyone else stops teens from showing everybody their true self.
“Teenagers care about fitting in because in today’s society, fitting in is important,” said Quiroz. “If you aren’t a part of any ‘cliques,’ then you are considered an outsider to everyone else.”
With various classes, clubs, and organizations that high school offers to students, many argue that it really encourages teenagers to embrace their true image. However, the pressure to join any of those organizations makes students believe that if they do not become part of any of the more “popular groups,” they may as well not entirely fit in with most of society. Alexandra Robbins reflects this opinion in her novel, The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth.
“If you’re someone who engages in studying or practicing violin, these are not activities that put you in front of the student body,” said Robbins.
The startling thing about most teenagers comes from the fact that many tend to see completely embracing one’s individuality as the “unusual” thing to do. Because of society’s harsh judgment, students have become hesitant to fully show others their true image for fear of rejection. However, due to the support of certain friends and peers, some teens have gained the confidence to fully express themselves without worrying about the views of society.
“Just be yourself, and if the people you associate yourself with really care about you, they will accept you no matter what,” said Quiroz.
Conformity in today’s society has become overly encouraged due to the stressed idea of “fitting in” with various cliques and gaining the acceptance of others. Students find themselves at a crossroads in high school during which they must choose which they find more important: following everyone else in order to gain society’s approval or taking the path less travelled.
By Ashlee Winters
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