Conformity. Yay or Nay?

“I don’t believe we were put here with all of our differences to conform to a uniform state of mind.”


I am running the Lincoln Half Marathon next Sunday for the first time! Only God knows if I will survive the 13.24 mile run! At the UNL rec center, there is a nice track to run yourself around in circles, and lately this is where I find myself when wanting to train for my half marathon adventure. 9 circles equal 1 mile. My goal each time is to run at least 27 circles, and on a good day 45. And so yesterday, I dragged myself to the rec center, walked up three flights of stairs to the running track and began stretching. Do a few lungs, touch my toes, twist my back, yea woohoo get pumped to run in a circle 45 times! After stretching out, I look at the track and notice that something isn’t right, but can’t seem to put a finger on what is off. I stand there in contemplation and then realize the two other runners on the track are running in the wrong direction! You see, there is this small sign hanging on the side of the cobblestone wall that clearly states in red letters: Odd Days –> Clockwise; Even Days <– Counterclockwise. The two runners were running counterclockwise despite the fact that it was May 1st, an odd day! The sight of others not following the indoor track running rules was baffling me, and honestly kinda frustrated me! I stood there, watching them exercise in the wrong direction, and started to second guess myself.

May 1st is an odd day, right? Clockwise is this way, not that way…right? Yea. They are wrong. For sure.

So now I had a decision to make. I could either conform, and run in the wrong direction with them, or I could be different and exercise in the correct direction. I chose to follow the red words on the sign. I started my work out by walking clockwise. It felt weird going in a different direction from the other two runners. One girl passed me and looked at me with a glance that questioned, “Why are you running this way?” I stared down at my iPhone, trying to avoid eye-contact when possible. Once I made my first round, I decided it was just too awkward to run in the right, but “wrong” direction, so I walked another lap. Then, a different boy joined us three on the track… and to my befuddlement, started jogging counterclockwise!!!! What is going on here?! Either I am psycho, or conformity runs strong here on the track, literally.

I couldn’t see myself asking the runners to run in the correct direction. I mean not following the rules in this context is technically not that big a deal. However, I also didn’t want to break the rules and go in the wrong direction simply because these peeps can’t read a sign. I resort to leaving the running track all together, and finishing my work out on the treadmill. Which if you thought running in 45 circles was silly, running on a treadmill to nowhere for 5 miles is much worse! But in my opinion, there was no other choice. Despite how trivial this experience was in the grand scheme of things, for some reason it really impacted me. It got me thinking about the whole notion of conformity, when and why people choose to conform, as well as when people shouldn’t.

What would you have done if you were in this situation? I’ve narrowed the options down to three actions:

  1. You can run in the wrong direction with the other runners. 

    This choice, obviously means you have chosen to conform to the actions of others. You might recognize that these actions are wrong and just don’t want to be the odd ball out, or you may have no clue that what you are doing is not right. Either way though, you did not question the actions of others, and now yourself. In this instance, conformity doesn’t hurt anyone, but what if you decided to conform in a different context? There are numerous occasions where conformity becomes a detriment to yourself and/or others and it’s up to you to notice. What if you walk into a silent lecture hall of 200 students, do you choose to join the silence and stay a stranger to those that surround you? Maybe your friends are nitpicking the actions and appearance of someone else, do you choose to join the criticizing?

  2. You can walk away from the situation, completely. 

    Rather than deciding on taking any action, right or wrong, you have chosen to take the silent route. This option ensures no confrontation or explanations. However, by staying silent nothing changes. What if you notice several teenagers poking fun at a homeless man downtown while others pass by, do you choose to become another passer-by? Perhaps your boss suggests an idea that you disagree with, but none of your coworkers’ voice objection, do you stay quiet?

  3. You can inform the current runners that they are running in the wrong direction, and ask them to run in the right direction with you. 

    Probably the most intimidating option, but also the most potentially beneficial choice for yourself and others. When we choose to be outspoken and go against the grain of others, we open the door for communication and change! If you decide to break the silence and speak to the stranger next to you in lecture hall, you are letting yourself meet new people you would have otherwise been oblivious to. If you voice your opinions to your boss, you allow an open dialogue to occur, which leads to collaboration.

In any given situation, we are given a choice to either conform or stand out. Not all patterns of conformity are wrong, such as seeing someone raise their hand in class before they speak and then deciding to do the same (that’s just called respect in the classroom), however noticing when conformity is damaging is essential! Remember to be cognizant of your actions as well as the actions of others. Welcome open communication and controlled confrontation. But most importantly, do what feels right and to you.

Until next time,
Heather Mei

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