To Conform or Not to Conform?
Helpful facts that young people want to know
THIS question faces youth constantly. It comes up in the home, at school, and in association with others at work and in play.
It is an important question. For by their conforming or not conforming, their lives are shaped and molded. This greatly affects their search for happiness.
THE SOURCES OF PRESSURES TO CONFORM
Where do the pressures to conform come from? Both from outside us and from inside us.
Those with whom you associate, both young and old, daily exercise influence on you. They influence you to see things the way they see them, or do things the way they do them. Some want you to conform to one thing, others to another. Often the influences are exactly opposite.
But much of the pressure comes from inside us. We all have a natural tendency to imitate others. You probably not only look like your parents but also talk like them, have certain mannerisms like theirs. You speak the language (or languages) that people around you speak, probably eat the kinds of food they eat.
But much more serious is the fact that we tend to imitate others in their standards of conduct, their attitudes and outlook on life. Can you control this molding effect? And, if so, how?
DESIRE FOR CHANGE
Today, many young people are disappointed and frustrated by what they see around them. No doubt you see many things you object to and rightly so. No honest person will deny that a tremendous amount of bad is now done on earth. Conformity to what is bad does not bring changes for the good.
Well, then, should you admire and want to be like many young people today who say they do not intend to ‘conform to anything or anyone’? They say they are going to be ‘absolutely free and independent,’ just doing strictly their ‘own thing.’ Really, a little thinking tells us that this is just as impossible as trying to please everyone.
For example, for them even to begin to be really independent they would have to grow and prepare all their own food, make all their own clothes and do all the other things of life for themselves. Why, they would even have to invent their own private language, so as not to conform to the language of their country, with its rules of grammar.
SOME CONFORMITY ESSENTIAL TO LIFE
Really, we all have to conform to certain things just to stay alive, do we not? None of us can live without breathing air or drinking water, so we must conform to these features of earthly life or stop living. When you wait for a speeding truck to pass before you cross a highway, are you not conforming to the circumstances out of concern for your safety? Because, after all, how free and independent would you be if you became a corpse?
There has to be agreement on certain matters if people are to live and work together successfully. How could a group of men ever construct anything if they did not agree on standards of measurement, if each one used his own set of measures? Can you imagine what a house that they might build would look like? And how would you like to play a game—say a game of football—where each person just made up his own rules and even changed the rules whenever he wanted to, right in the middle of a play? Or what if you had a job where the employer raised or lowered your wages, and either paid you or did not pay you, just according to the way he happened to feel at the time?
The big thing, then, is not just being able to find fault or disagree with the way things are done. Anyone can do that. The big thing is coming up with solutions, ways to correct and improve matters. This is true at home, in school, at our place of work or anywhere else. Complaining just for the sake of complaining accomplishes nothing. Conformity can often be the wiser course. It can make our homelife pleasanter, our schoolwork more effective and our secular work more enjoyable and rewarding.
Yes, we can save ourselves a lot of headaches and heartaches if we benefit from others’ experience and wholesome influence. And when it comes to experience, surely we must admit that there is no one better prepared to give us the right influence than God. As man’s Creator, he knows man best. And his viewpoint has the backing of his having observed mankind’s actions and efforts over thousands of years. His Word, the Bible, gives us the guidelines we need in order to know when to conform and when not to conform.
WHEN CONFORMITY IS DANGEROUS
The Bible, however, shows that we definitely should not conform ourselves to much that is around us. For example, the apostle Paul tells us: “Quit being fashioned after this system of things, but be transformed by making your mind over, that you may prove to yourselves the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Or, as The New Testament in Modern English expresses part of his words: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold.”—Rom. 12:2.
The reason why we should not ‘be fashioned after this system of things’ is that the present systems are not conformed to God’s righteous ways and are faced with destruction. But they pressure us to be like them. If we weaken, they will ‘squeeze us into their mold.’
We can begin to weaken in small ways. Often the desire for popularity is what starts the weakening process among many young people. The word “popularity” comes from the same word as “people.” Being popular really means being a ‘people pleaser.’ We all, of course, have a natural desire to be liked by others. But this can be a trap to us. Even though we know that something is wrong and know what the right thing is to do, the fear of becoming unpopular can make us hesitate in taking the right course. That is one of the reasons why Proverbs 29:25 warns us: “Trembling at men is what lays a snare, but he that is trusting in Jehovah will be protected.”
One thing is sure: we cannot possibly please everyone. So, why not be concerned about pleasing the One who matters most? The psalmist David wrote of Jehovah God: “With you is the source of life.” “You will cause me to know the path of life. Rejoicing to satisfaction is with your face; there is pleasantness at your right hand forever.” (Ps. 36:9; 16:11) We certainly have good reason then to want to please Him above all others.
Perhaps your parents taught you from childhood what God’s will is for his servants and helped you to understand what kind of conduct pleases God and what does not. Suppose, then, you now find yourself facing pressure—from schoolmates, young people in your neighborhood or others—to go against what you have been taught? They may try to get you to experiment with drugs, get drunk, or steal, or engage in some other immoral conduct. Or they might pressure you to do something that would violate Christian neutrality. What if refusing to conform to what they want brings ridicule on you, even threats? What will you do?
Rather than giving in to the pressure, show yourself to be a person of true discernment by keeping “cool of spirit.” (Prov. 17:27) Stop and ask yourself these questions:
Why should it be so important to me to be accepted by these persons? If it means risking my health and life, is their approval worth it? Will their friendship bring benefits that are long lasting, or just momentary? How much do they really care about me? Would any one of them do what my parents did for me—care for me from infancy, provide all my needs, take care of me during illness? Then, what kind of person would I be if I now ignored my parents’ good counsel just to be accepted by some loose-living boy or girl who never really did anything worth while for me? Will conforming to such a person or group help me to please the Life-Giver, God? Remember, his Word says: “You must not follow after the crowd for evil ends.”—Ex. 23:2.
Because they were admiring and giving in to wrong influence of selfish persons, the apostle Paul had to reprimand some Christians in the congregation at Corinth, Greece. “In fact,” Paul told them, “you put up with whoever enslaves you, whoever devours what you have, whoever grabs what you have, whoever exalts himself over you, whoever strikes you in the face.” (2 Cor. 11:20) Really, how much sense does it make to seek the friendship of persons who just use us for what they can get out of us, perhaps at the same time treating us as inferiors while they make themselves appear very “big”? The Bible says you should serve God “with your power of reason.”—Rom. 12:1.
Often the pressure to conform is subtle. Fads in clothing and hairstyles exercise pressures simply because they are “popular” among certain groups that are prominent. Conforming to these fads may seem like a small thing in itself. But what is behind the fad?
Is it just an attempt to present an attractive appearance in a somewhat different way? Then conformity may not be particularly objectionable. On the other hand, is it motivated by the desire to be outstanding, startlingly different, thereby expressing a lot of pride and desire to ‘outshine’ others? Or is there motivation toward encouraging loose conduct in sexual matters, or the use of clothes or hairstyle to express rebellion? Then the question of conforming or not becomes a serious one.
The Bible tells us of one who let pride rule him and lead him to the point of rebelling against God. That was God’s adversary Satan the Devil. Do we want to conform ourselves in any way to his image and, in effect, become his “children”? (John 8:44; 1 John 3:10-12) Or do we want to be like God’s Son who refused to conform himself to the wrong ways of the world even though put under the greatest pressure anyone has ever experienced? Instead of conforming to the world, Jesus could say, “I have conquered the world.”—John 16:33.
Refusal to conform will seldom be easy. But remember this: the person who courageously stands up for what he knows to be right is usually admired by many. True, certain ones will speak disparagingly of him, but this is because they want to justify their own wrong course by trying to pull him down to their same low level of life. Yet, inside themselves even those who jeer and mock often secretly admire the conviction of the young man or young woman who holds firm for what he or she believes to be right and true. They may wish they had such strength.
Yes, rather than being conformed to this world, we too can ‘conquer the world’ and gain God’s approval and the unending happiness that His approval can bring us.