I’ve never been too worried about conforming. You should have seen my high school wardrobe (it was, um, *creative*) or consider the fact that I’m from the South but have an actual aversion to sweet tea and the SEC. (Yeah, several of you stopped reading right there. I know.)
I wouldn’t call myself a nonconforming rebel either but I’m pretty good at resisting peer pressure. I always felt that my inner convictions and deeply-held beliefs were far more important than popular opinion. During adolescence, right about the time I started finding my own voice and thinking critically about what I believed I received disapproval for straying a little too far from conservativism. (statistics show that most in my generation have)
About 13 years ago I spoke out in History class at my small, Christian high school in defense of immigrants and felt instantly the chasm between my viewpoint and that of my peers. I’ve since gained much more confidence, knowledge, and courage especially on the topic of immigration and have proudly landed somewhere in the moderate area of the general political spectrum. (and I think the political views of many of my classmates have also evolved) I doubt I will ever find myself at any point in my life pledging loyalty to a specific party.
- I’m writing this from Honduras, where we are currently having our own emotionally-charged political controversies.
First of all, I should mention that I’m not inherently political. I don’t keep up with most politics honestly and I certainly don’t go around picking internet fights with every faux news article I see shared. (I. see. a. lot. – hello, unfollow button?) The issues I am engaged with are the result of very strong convictions formed by very personal experiences, my relationship with my Savior, and the study of His teachings. I am an imperfect human doing the best I can to follow a perfect King. I honestly would avoid politics altogether (it just isn’t a pleasant subject) if it weren’t for the fact that it highly affects a lot of vulnerable people for whom I care deeply. I won’t go into detail on each policy with which I agree or disagree or those about which I honestly don’t know much. I definitely recognize that most hot-button issues are not easily resolved and are not as black and white as “right vs. wrong.” If it were so I think we would have more clearly marked camps. Obviously I believe that my beliefs are “correct” otherwise it would be non-sensical to believe them, but I do find it necessary to continually seek new information and perspectives and do my best to respect the individual who holds a contrasting opinion to my own. Respecting the individual does not mean tolerating insults, bullying, emotional manipulation, or speech that denigrates a person/persons. We have the right to shut. that. down.
Conformity vs Nonconformity
A neuroscientist, Gregory Berns, conducted an experiment on conformity vs. nonconformity in a group setting by scanning the brains (using a type of MRI) of volunteers as they answered a series of simple questions. Actors were placed in the experimental groups to confidently give wrong answers. The results, other than confirming previous research that group work influences an individual’s decision-making, showed the why behind a majority of individuals’ conformity under peer pressure. It didn’t have to do with the volunteers’ conscious decision to change their answers in order to follow the crowd. The brain scans actually showed heightened activity in regions associated with visual and spatial perception meaning that popular opinion had in fact somehow changed the very perception of the volunteers. They were convinced to believe something that wasn’t true.
On the flip side the volunteers that stuck with their gut and did not conform with the
incorrect answers of the majority showed an interesting find in the brain scans as well. The amygdala, part of the brain associated with emotions such as fear and rejection, lit up. Berns called this “the pain of independence” which he says is “the clearest marker of the emotional load associated with standing up for one’s belief.” It takes courage, friends. Especially if a lot of the time you feel like you are standing up alone.
This is to point out the risk of social ostracism when one is part of a homogeneous group that doesn’t facilitate diverse viewpoints. Peer pressure is a beast.
But what if I truly agree with my group? Great! The objective is critical thinking and being able to arrive at our own conclusion and if that conclusion happens to be exactly what those around you think then, well, majority rules. 🙂 Congrats. (but maybe have a little grace with the person you meet who came to a different conclusion?)
Of all the social settings in which I’ve lived I can say that my college campus, Lee University, felt like that sweet spot of intellectual autonomy + Christian tradition. I felt very little anxiety about voicing my convictions there.
Some of the things I appreciate about my country are democracy and the freedom to express any opinion or belief. In theory we say we can respect differing opinions but we often consider a person with an opinion in contrast to our own to have some sort of character flaw. (or in evangelical circles… a crisis of faith)
Democracy depends on majority rule in the midst of dissenting voices but what happens when the majority conforms to the loudest and most obnoxious voice(s)? I hate to say that more than once I have fallen prey to psychological bullies trying to reason or guilt me out of my deeply-help opinions. Other than these less-than-desirable methods of persuasion I do appreciate having such diversity of belief in my circle.
I would venture to say that if every one of your friends and acquaintances agrees with you religiously and politically then you probably live in a bubble and are lacking some factors that would help hone your critical thinking skills. Maybe you’ve created that bubble intentionally (I certainly gravitate toward likeminded people) and that’s your right but I’ll probably pass on having a political conversation with you. When entering into any kind of discussion over policy my first thought is, “Who is someone you know personally affected by this?”
Something else that keeps us in bubbles, and has surprised me recently, are our search engine biases. Online algorithms used in everything from our social media accounts to email to the ads on random websites we visit to what we search for in Google often keep us from venturing out of our idealogical sphere. Ever searched for something then all of a sudden see it pop up in ads with every new window you open? Same concept. We typically see what we want to see, literally and figuratively.
Our society, in its ideal state (of being), would be free thinkers and give themselves permission to dig a little deeper than their party and the news clips and sound bites and viral memes. We would graciously admit defeat when our candidate loses and we would have the integrity and humility to admit when our candidate or party is wrong. We wouldn’t assume someone’s entire idealogical makeup based on one position they hold nor would we attack someone’s opposing viewpoint with all the built up force of a lifetime of political frustration.
i.e. I share a heartwarming story about an undocumented immigrant I know who is struggling to make ends meet (unqualified for state benefits contrary to popular belief) and faithfully serves in her local church congregation. This is obviously personal and emotional to me but I am not attacking any opposing view or, believe it or not, trying to promote an agenda. I’m simply sharing a FACTUAL story from a compassionate perspective of an issue about which I care deeply.
This opens a can of worms where others (who in fact have no personal ties to an individual who had to make the difficult decision of leaving their home to provide for their family) assume the right to verbally attack me or the protagonist of my story. My question is, how did this incite such fervent refutation? Why is a popular tactic of arguing politics to take the humanity out of the debate? – and it’s done so passionately?
For the very reason that we usually bring a little too much baggage to the debate, I am very hesitant to share specific political beliefs online. We rarely understand the context, nuance, or background of the person posting the comment. There still exist many who don’t exercise as much deliberation when posting or sharing. Occasionally I’ll entertain a friendly discussion of politics from behind the screen but mostly I feel it is best reserved for personal conversation. (which isn’t necessarily always friendly either, haha)
I could get a variety of reactions to this blog post (assuming that even a handful of people read it) due to the diversity of my friends list. I don’t even know how many might actually relate to my story. My social network includes nominal evangelical Christians, Catholics, Hindus, Muslims; devout evangelical Christians, Catholics, Hindus, Muslims; atheists; agnostics; Republicans; Democrats; international friends who don’t know the meaning of either political party; heterosexuals; members of the LGBT community; so many races and nationalities I couldn’t count them all; police officers; active military; veterans; pastors; addicts; teachers; documented immigrants; undocumented immigrants; professors; missionaries; feminists; doctors; lawyers; etc.; all who are human beings with their own experiences, stories, passions, struggles, and beliefs.
Of course we’re going to disagree on things. Hopefully we can learn from each other without compromising our core values. As Christians, may we use scripture as a pruning tool for ourselves and not as darts to throw at “the opposition.” May we allow the Holy Spirit to work on our hearts… as well as our tongues. Can we vow to put down our weapons of divisive speech and approach each difference of opinion while waving the banner of kindness instead? We are on the same team after all.