So let’s get this out of the way up front: there is no one who is either 100% conformist nor 100% non-conformist. We likely have some tendencies, perspectives, and practices that are a mixture of both extremes.
Yet, this week’s focus in Becoming “Non” for Lent is becoming non-conformist, so that is what I’ll mostly focus on.
WE CONFORM, BECAUSE THAT’S THE NORM
Simply by virtue of being human and trying to navigate the journey of living, we inevitably conform to some standards. Whether they be institutional, governmental, or cultural, there are some norms that we learn to adjust to very early on in life.
We call these activities, behaviors, and outlooks “normal” because they are the norm as we learn them.
We consider it the norm to go to school, maybe go to more school, all for the purpose of getting some job. But do we ever consider that a higher goal of education might be to know ourselves better?
We consider it the norm to reach vocational achievement levels that make us independent, able to store money away for retirement, and become at least respectably middle class. But do we ever consider that our true vocation may have little to do with what we’re paid for?
We consider it the norm to tuck our frail and aging parents away in institutional “homes” so they can be cared for. But do we ever consider that this convenient move may rob us of a chance to honor our elders?
Nothing of these examples of norms is inherently bad nor wrong. But if we conform to these “normal” ways of thinking and acting without at least questioning where is the good in it, then we are mindless conformists.
AN EXAMPLE OF NON-CONFORMITY
There are many other ways we conform, without even thinking about it. I’ll share with you just one I struggle with.
As a parent, it is so easy to do what it seems like everyone else is doing. That is, it would be easy to allow my children to spend an inordinate amount of time with their peers. And the ways that can occur seem good, and right, and normal in our culture. But …
We are told by school programs that kids need to be at certain events and functions. We are told by sports organizations that our kids need to be involved in seasonal sports programs. We are told by religious organizations that our kids need to be at age-appropriate events on a weekly basis, plus all the special events throughout the year.
We tell ourselves that our kids are being monitored by teachers, equipped by coaches, and shaped by religious leaders. Not really. The reality is, our children are spending all this time in these arenas with peers their own age. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But …
If my children are spending more time per week engaging with their friends than they are with me and my wife, we are failing as the primary shapers and influencers of our kids. So we fight to have more quality time with our kids than any one or any thing else. Which means they may not participate in sports during some seasons. They may not be having sleepovers with friends very often. They may not be doing tons of extracurricular activities. They may not be going to children’s church or youth groups, much at all or ever.
That’s not a popular view, I know. And likely some of you who are parents reading this vehemently disagree with me.
That’s why it’s called non-conformity.
We like to highlight our uniqueness, but fail to recognize the multiple ways we mindlessly conform.
Why would we ever want to be non-conformist anyway?
It’s part of living the examined life. And as a follower of Jesus, it’s part of the pattern of being counter to dominant trends.
Examining our patterns and ways of life to see how we conform to the norms of society, culture, and the institutions we are part of is not necessarily a fun thing to do. I get it.
Even if we decide not to change a thing, we have to examine ourselves in an uncomfortable way.
But I think the practice of becoming non-conformist can be very rewarding.
There are dozens, likely hundreds of ways, we conform to what’s expected of us and what we’ve learned is normal. And it is highly probable that we conform in these ways without even being aware of it.
To become non-conformist is not to suggest we rage against all the machines and become anarchists. Though, as a Jesus-follower, anarchy is part of the deal.
Instead, take this week to examine yourself, your practices and routines, your assumed “normals.” And then decide which ones you might reconsider.
There are really only two primary practices for becoming non-conformist. They can be explored in numerous ways. Feel free to experiment.
This week, try this:
- Really examine yourself and your family and begin to list the ways you conform to the standards and expectations of society, culture, and the institutions you are a part of. Don’t get overwhelmed. Stop listing if you get to twenty or more.
- Then pick just one or maybe two of these areas that you’d like to consider being non-conformist in. Now, how will you go about practicing your new “normal”?
The article on becoming non-directional for Week 1 of Lent is here.
The article on becoming non-dualistic for Week 2 of Lent is here.
The article on becoming non-equivalent for Week 3 of Lent is here.
And all the resources for “Becoming ‘Non’ for Lent” can be found here.