My high school was relatively small. To put it into perspective, I graduated with eighty-six people. In my class there were the usual cliques. There were the smart kids, the athletes, the cheerleaders, the drug users, and the slackers. But somehow I didn’t fit into all of this. I wasn’t, and still am not, the smartest person in the history of the world. I’m way too clumsy to play any sports. I wasn’t the right size to be a cheerleader. I wouldn’t even consider using drugs, and I certainly am not a slacker. I was just Nikki the girl that no one liked. I just wasn’t like them. I dressed differently, and had my own opinion, and that just didn’t fly with them.
Day in and day out, I saw the struggle. It happened most with the incoming freshman every year. I saw people almost killing themselves with dieting so they could fit the cheerleader mold. I saw some of the most intelligent people not apply themselves, just because it’s not “cool” to be smart. I really think that is sad. These people could really have made something of themselves, but instead they chose being “cool” over having a future. I was teased and mocked for attempting to be an individual. Even one of my teachers told me one day that I only dressed differently so I could get attention. Her saying that really made me think. Is it really so bad to not want to be a conformist sheep? Has the world really come to either being alike or being miserable? I hope not. I’ll admit to sometimes wishing I could be like them. But I know that I wouldn’t be here now if I had been.
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As Doris Lessing said, “It is the hardest thing in the world to maintain an individual dissident opinion, as a member of a group” (334).
She also said, “the hardest thing in the world is to stand out against one’s group of peers” (334).
I don’t exactly find this to be true. High school wasn’t exactly the easiest time for me, but I got by. I would have rather gone through it without friends, than to have changed whom I was just to belong. I was relatively happy just being myself. I liked wearing clothes that had color, and I liked for people to notice me. People who change to fit into a mold aren’t happy as themselves. I think conforming to fit in is on of the worst things a person can do. I’m not saying that everyone should have blue hair, but they should at least attempt to have an opinion of their own. Even if you’re just speaking up when deciding on a movie that your friends are choosing that you don’t want to see. Anywhere is a good place to start.
Lessing’s argument does make some sense. She stated that people look for people like themselves (333-335).
That is true; we all have the need to belong to a group that shares our beliefs, whether that is our peer group, or a group we join. I do not, however, think you should change your beliefs to fit into a group. You should let the group come to you, not you to the group.
It is true that people respect the rules and regulations of society, and that, in and of itself is conforming to a certain extent. There is, however a difference between following the rules to do what you think is right, and conforming just to go along with the group. For example, if I were to take a class in bird watching, I would do it because I enjoy bird watching, not because my roommate does. A person should do what they feel is right, not what their neighbor does.
Philip Zimbardo’s “The Stanford Prison Experiment” was an experiment to see how far a person would go into an act if given a role. Twenty-one volunteers, all college age males, were divided into two groups, the guards and the prisoners. The guards got really mean, and the prisoners took on more of a submissive role. They conformed to what the media portrays as appropriate behavior of guards and prisoners. They had to end the experiment early because the prisoners rioted (363-375).
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The guards were telling them how to act, that had gotten to them, and they couldn’t take it anymore: “They [the prisoners] didn’t see it as an experiment. It was real and they were fighting to keep their identity” (374).
The subjects wrote in diaries from the beginning to the end of the experiment. Excerpts of one guard’s diary are included in Zimbardo’s article. Prior to the experiment he said that he is a “nonaggressive individual” (373).
As the experiment went on, he began yelling and being very violent with the prisoners: ” I decided to force-feed him, but he wouldn’t eat. I let the food slide down his face. I didn’t believe it was me doing it. I hated myself for making him eat but I hated him more for not eating” (373-374).
He was not happy with the way he acted. He said that he was elated at the end of the experiment. He had conformed, and wasn’t happy with the out come. Who really is though? When we conform, we aren’t making ourselves happy we are only making the group happy.
I’m sure that if in high school I would have changed myself enough, I could have had friends and something to do on the weekend, but I’m also sure that I couldn’t have lived with myself knowing that I was not being me. I value the relationship that I had with my mother, and I know if I had been like them, I wouldn’t have been able to have that relationship with her. I had a lot of weekends open for just spending time with my mom, and contrary to popular belief, moms are pretty cool. Now that she has passed on, I wouldn’t have traded that time for anything in the world, including friends.
I also feel that if I had conformed, I would not have stopped with just changing clothes or opinions. I may have fallen in with the wrong group and ended up getting involved in drinking or maybe even something worse. Having a group mind is a never-ending spiral of not doing what you believe is right. I’m glad to have my own opinion and really wish more people would acknowledge that they too have the potential to be great.
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We have all been given the opportunity to be individuals. Whether or not we take the opportunity and go with it is up to us. The majority of us, sadly, tend to not take it. It all goes back to fitting in, being part of the “in” crowd. We as a society need to find happiness in our own lives, not siphon it from someone else’s. However, until more of us realize that, the odds are for the sheep.
Lessing, Doris. “Group Minds.” Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum. 7th
edition. Ed Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen. New York: Longman, 1999. 333-335.
Zimbardo, Philip K. “The Stanford Prison Experiment.” .” Writing and Reading Across
the Curriculum. 7th edition. Ed Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen. New York: Longman, 1999.363-375.