Sunday, 23 September 2012

Is Conformism killing Individuality and Creativity?

The other day while looking at some photographs of students celebrating a  fresher party in a leading English Newspaper and, I just couldn’t help thinking how similar everyone looked! And this is not just about the similar  types of clothes they had put on, but also their facial appearances, and  attitudes! They all looked the same! Having worked with young  students of various classes in various schools, I couldn't help sensing a disturbing trait of conformity  which seemed to be robbing them of their sense of originality!
It seems as if the inability to think differently from others is the result of  pressure to conform to  accepted patterns, the demand to blend in with the group, and an acknowledgement of what is cool, what is hep, and what is not! There somehow seems to be a uniform, all-pervading sense of indifference towards those who don’t belong to the group in terms of age  such as the elderly man  standing in the metro train.The trait of  loudness and garrulousness seems to bind our young ones together and this seems to include  a general sense of indifference towards others, and a  sense of selfishness!
The fruits of technology have unfortunately made us lazy, and helpless!  Easily available material on the internet makes it easy for most of us to copy from the net and submit it as our own work  (in spite of the uproar about plagiarism these days). In class, I have observed that students who give their own original answers are looked down at by their fellow classmates. Everything has to follow a fixed and accepted pattern! Students who behave and think differently are ridiculed and not accepted within the group. You have to be really daring and courageous to behave differently from the accepted trend, and this includes wearing different clothes, thinking differently, or not conforming to the accepted patterns! It seems therefore, that today, the original thinker, the rebel, is a novel species, someone who is an outsider, an aberration and so avoided at any cost! It goes without thinking that those who think out of the box, those who think differently have to go into hiding, that is unless they really have nerves of steel and raw guts to stand out of the crowd and make themselves noted and seen!
So then, is conformism killing individuality, originality and creativity  today? The above instances and examples seem to point out towards this harsh and disturbing trend! It seems as if we are all heading towards a time when we will not be known as individuals, but as a crowd, a collective whole headed by those  who have the strength and going power of thinking out of the box, those who will think for us. The apparent lack of new thoughts,  rampant plagiarism, cases of copyright violations conforming to the accepted norms, the pressure to think alike,and the need to blend with the group has meant that we have stopped thinking for ourselves, we have stopped thinking our own thoughts.   All this has lead to a situation where we have begun to live in a virtual world where others do our thinking for us! This is a scary scenario, and one is reminded of films like the Matrix! We seem to be steadily headed towards a Matrix where  individual identities are subservient to the identity  of the matrix. Nature has not created Man to  be a conformist, and humanity is all about originality, creativity, problem solving, and higher order thinking. All these learning strategies require  thinking out of the box, and  thinking differently! Today, more than ever, we have started working on auto-pilot, we have started living stereo-type lives, even our responses to different situations are stereotyped so much so that these responses can be predicted! Today everything can be mapped, and this includes our emotional responses our behavioural responses towards different challenges that life may throw at us! While it is true that the human brain is  unique, original and exclusive and that no two human beings think alike, but then  training, living in a group, conforming to set patterns,   is bound to usher changes! Globalisation, shrinking of distances through advancement in travel, the use of the internet and the viewing of the whole world as a global village have meant that we are  becoming one amalgamated mass  of thought processes!



Sometimes, the pressure to conform might have some far reaching implications for both, the students and the teachers. I am reminded of one such case which a teacher in a public school told me about. The students of a class of tenth graders would point out to the teacher that he should shave off his mustaches  or better still change his hair style, or why he had got two pens, why he placed them on opposite sides in the same pocket…and so on. The teacher patiently told them that he didn't shave off his mustache because it would look odd since he had kept a mustache always!
The pressure to conform to accepted trends is so great in teenage students that they get distracted when someone comes into their midst who looks different or acts different. This pressure however wears off as these children grow up. It is only as they begin to discover their own individuality that they begin to accept that everyone is equipped with different skills and abilities, and even personality traits. It is ultimately a great fallacy to treat all children as copies of each other. Unfortunately, consumerism, propaganda techniques, and a market based culture have led to a culture of conformism. The bandwagon technique of advertisement deals with the idea that if you don’t jump into the bandwagon, then you will be left out, if you don’t use a particular product, then you will be called and uncle or an aunty! It is because our children don’t want to be out of the bandwagon that they are forced to think and behave in a particular manner which is dictated by market trends and market forces! It is as if young children are under a constant pressure to conform to a particular belief of what is cool or hep or in and what is out, not realising that these beliefs have been dictated by market sources!






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