Yes I know how the title sounds but it is what I meant to write and yes it’s meant as an attention getter. What does being a nonconformist mean? Or maybe a better question is what does a nonconformist look like; in deed and actions? What is it about being labeled as a nonconformist that is appealing to so many?
In the modern (western) use of the word to be a nonconformist means to differentiate youself from those around you. It is often seen in young adults as a way of expressing themselves as individuals as they try to become independent of their parent(s). Anything can be used by a person to express nonconformity depending on the intended audience. I say it as such because what may be seen as nonconforming to one person will be quite conforming to another. Individualism is often expressed by clothing, body modifications, music, language usage or attitude, with the latter playing into education and employment. So, while an individual may be consciously nonconforming from one (or multiple) group(s) of society, they may at the same time be actively cultivating acceptance within what they view as a desirable peer society.
A quick side note I believe is necessary in this discussion and that is on nonconformity as regards normal social constructs. By this I’m referring to personal actions that step outside the bounds of lawful behavior. Extreme nonconformity is seen in groups that term themselves “1%” (one percenters). Meaning they comprise 1% of society and somehow therefore are outside of society and any societal restrictions. Motorcycle clubs such as the Hells Angels, Mongols and Pagans fit the category of extreme nonconformists as do those who live as anarchists. Yet even this small subset of society resides within a conforming and conscribed set of rules, down to the patches on their jackets.
But why do we want to be viewed as a nonconformist? What is the appeal to being labeled as one? And I say “we” because I certainly wanted to be seen as such. And I’ve thought that way for most of my adult life. I think first and foremost we simply want to be noticed for who we are as individuals and not be somehow lumped into the mass of humanity we associate or are seen with. We scream to the heavens, “I am not like everyone else around me!” I mentioned some of the ways that we go about doing this but probably more importantly is the extent by which we’ll go too attain this, i.e. from fingernail polish to branding. Each in it’s varying degrees can be “used” as a means of nonconformity. But if nonconformity is simply a means to draw attention then why do we use such outlandish means?
As I mentioned at the onset we’re most familiar with the nonconformist as an adolescent. As such there can be a great amount of personal struggle going on as the young person try’s to define who they are, both to themself and those around them. Not only are they trying to figure out “who they are and where they fit” (I think we all recognize that phrase) but they may also rail against the authorities over them as they try to take control over their own lives. How an individual defines being the master of their own ship is a huge question. Obviously the environment we are raised in plays a huge role, but no more or less than our own personal make up. As I’ll bring up, raging against the machine can take on many forms.
What does it tell us about ourselves to conform or not conform? I’m not a psychoanalist so take this as you will. I think the degree by which someone is willing to non-conform or too conform is tied, a great extent, to how they view themself. Who/How one sees themself as in relationship to everyone around them is one of the strongest motivations that I can think of. My question is, “Should it be?” Wouldn’t a true nonconformist say, “What others think of me doesn’t matter.”, or does it? Isn’t there a niggling little part of us that does care, even if the reaction we’re after is a negative one?
I find it ironic (given the direction that I wanted to take this post) that the original meaning of the word “nonconformism” derives from a refusal to “conform” to, or follow, the governance and usages of the Church of England by the Protestant Christians of England and Wales. refusal to “conform” to, or follow, the governance and usages of the Church of England by the Protestant Christians of England and Wales.
As Christians (yes I’m writing to those of you in the choir) what are we supposed to make of all this? What are called to be and not be to those around us? Aren’t we called to be conformers?
1 Corinthians 9:22
“…I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”
It certainly sounds to me like Paul is arguing that the best means to reach those around you is to be as they are and not make ourselves stand out. Yet in Romans Paul tells us not to conform to this world (I especially like the way the Amplified Bible has the passage of text.)
Do not be conformed to this world (this age), [fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs], but be transformed (changed) by the [entire] renewal of your mind [by its new ideals and its new attitude], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God, even the thing which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His sight for you].
So we are to be conforming without conforming. We are to be what we need to be to win the souls of those around us while at the same time being a non-conformist to the world and it’s ways. That’s the true non-conformity that we as Christians need to strive towards. It’s not about the, “The look at me I’m different”. It’s about the, “Get to know me I’m different”. The first is as easy to achieve as putting on a costume, the second only comes through perseverance, for we do have a cross to shoulder daily and it is that which makes Christians the true non-conformists of this world.
Wikipedia contributors. Nonconformism. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. September 25, 2012, 19:12 UTC. Available at:http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Nonconformism&oldid=514530660. Accessed September 26, 2012.