There’s tremendous pressure in society to conform to what everyone else wants and expects. That might seem like a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your temperament and values. Are you a “conformity enforcer” or a “diversity generator”?
If you drove down my street, you’d have a pretty good indication that the people in one particular house aren’t conformers. While pretty much every other home on the street has closely cropped shrubs like something out of a landscaping magazine, this house has bushes that have been allowed to grow up almost to the roof of the second floor.
The yard is carefully kept and there’s a lot of other greenery in a side garden, so it’s obvious that this is intentional, not just a matter of being too lazy to cut shrubs. Is this a good thing or an eyesore?
It depends on your point of view. Personally, I don’t think I’d want my bushes that high, at least not with such a traditional style of architecture, but it doesn’t bother me in the least. I’ve talked to a couple of people on the street, though, who find it nothing short of scandalous.
In most things, I fall into the “diversity generator” camp, aka the weirdos. I’ve always identified with the unpopular groups who didn’t quite fit in. I probably shouldn’t admit it, but I’ve always seen the “conformity enforcers” as the enemy, because they represented the views of The Man in trying to put me into my place. In the last 10 years or so, though, I’ve come to see a broader perspective. These two groups might not like each other, but we need each other.
In a controversial 1997 book, “The Lucifer Principle,” author Howard Bloom suggested that all societies are made up of people filling certain necessary roles, whether they realize it or not. He proposed that there were five types of roles, but the ones relevant here are the conformity enforcers and the diversity generators.
Bloom believes that most people in any society are conformity enforcers, and it’s hard to dispute this notion. They’re the ones with the bushes more like those on the right. For those of us who don’t conform, it might sound like bad news that there are so many conformers, but Bloom says that a society with too few conformity enforcers will fall apart, because there’s nothing to hold it together. It’s the conformity to the norm that allows those people to stick together and live in peace.
The next biggest group — and the one that intrigues me the most — are the diversity generators. If a group has too many people who are going off and doing things differently, it doesn’t have enough stability to survive, but if it has too few of them, it becomes stagnant. In Bloom’s view, the diversity generators are the ones who try all sorts of crazy ideas and experiments. Most of them fail. Almost all of them are disliked and maybe even distrusted by the conformers. But a few of those crazy ideas work.
And here’s the interesting thing. The ideas that work spread to the rest of society. The conformers would never have tried them, but once they succeed and seem obvious, conformers start adopting them. At that point, the “crazy idea” becomes the embedded norm — and it lasts until the next generation of wild-eyed crazy radical comes along with something that works even better.
I’ll never be able to be a conformer. Honestly, I’m not terribly comfortable with them in the long term. But I acknowledge that society needs them for stability. I wish more of the broader society would acknowledge that people who chart their own courses and follow their own hearts and dreams are just as necessary to the long-term survival of the human race.
I want to close by quoting my favorite praise of diversity generators, which came from a television ad 14 years ago:
“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”
If you have an internal “tick tock” telling you to go your own way, don’t conform. Break out and be your own person. If that’s who God made you to be, don’t try to be a conformist just because family or friends or co-workers expect it. The future of the human race might just depend on you being true to your heart.