Conforming to commonly held social attitudes and beliefs is often necessary for the smooth functioning of society. However, when we look at celebrated individuals in our modern culture, such as musicians or artists, we can see that much of their appeal comes from choosing to do things in an entirely new way, and choosing to be original rather than conforming to commonly accepted styles. Thus, there is a conflict in modern society about the extent which conformity is valued. Social acceptance therefore often requires a balance between conformity and originality, as absolute conformity can result in an absence of independent thought and social progression, while absolute independence from conformity can result in social rejection and ostracism.
One of the central themes of Euripides’ work was the balance between conforming to accepted ideals and living an ethical and fulfilling life. On its basest level, conformity to social rules is necessary for social stability. If people do not conform to the law, then the result is an increase in crime. Laws are therefore created specifically for the purpose of conformity, as they define what are appropriate and inappropriate behaviors. If one chooses to break the law, there will be a legal consequence, so it is in the best interest of the individual to conform to these rules. Beyond this, there are situations that may not be illegal, but where conformity would still be the best option. For instance, a work environment might require a specific standard in both dress code and professional behavior.
While going against these codes might not be illegal, they could still be considered inappropriate to the point where one risks being fired from the job. In these instances, Euripides would perhaps agree that conformity is necessary. However, there are also situations where conformity with the absence of critical thought can be detrimental. For example, Abraham Lincoln is considered by many to be the greatest President due to his Emancipation Proclamation, which effectively ended slavery. If Lincoln had conformed to the thought process of all previous Presidents, he would not have made this decision. He was able to see that conforming to a society that still accepted slavery was inherently unethical. What Lincoln was able to have that others did not was a sense of kairos, or knowing the opportune time to make a conscious choice to break from conformity. In arguing his point to the American people, he relied on logos, or making the logical point that a split nation would be ultimately weaker. However, he also relied on pathos, as he was able to convey that slavery was inhumane and barbaric. Additionally, his role as President gave him considerable ethos, in that he was perceived as the leader of the nation and therefore responsible for the nation’s future direction.
On a more personal and individual level, the same balance can be seen between wanting to conform and valuing independence and original thought. For many people, conforming is a way to gain social acceptance. This extends beyond simply not breaking the law or work rules, but rather to the point where we think if we like certain things and act a certain way, we will be more accepted by others. This often stems from seeing how others are perceived, and then emulating their behavior. For example, we might see that someone popular dresses a certain way, so we might emulating their style of dress. For those who are artistic, we might analyze someone else’s style and attempt to mimic that style. While this might gain us some acceptance, it will also prevent us from being seen as wholly original. Instead, if we focus all our attention on conforming to a certain style or attitude, we will never be able to achieve an independent vision or a semblance of originality. In other words, we will become a copy of what we are seeking to conform to, and in most instances, we will not be as successful at it because we did not originate what we are trying to copy.
In social media, the main motivating factor is popularity, which we often equate with acceptance. We learn from posts we make and by seeing posts that others make; posts that seem to get a lot of attention are also emulated, and posts that are ignored are seen as being ineffective. This is they type of conformity that Euripides would disagree with, as this type of conformity does not stem from adhering to ethical or moral principles, and instead is meant to simply make us feel better about ourselves. The downside is that it can encourage attitudes or behaviors that we disagree with personally, but pretend to have on the outside because they are simply accepted opinions by those we admire.
Perhaps the most dangerous element of conformity is when it relates to politics, along with a complete absence of critical thought. While it is normal to have strong political opinions, the growing divide between political parties has caused many to have blind loyalty to a political party without considering the issues. This can create unnecessary hostilities toward others that align themselves with a different political party, even though both individuals may actually be moderates if they apply logos and pathos to each political topic. However, conforming to the party line can cause many people to not even consider the values for which they stand, as they have already been predetermined by the political party one agrees with. Thus, conformity without critical thought can actually be detrimental and harmful to a society. Ultimately, a balance should be struck between knowing the reasons why one might conform to a particular attitude, style, or belief, and knowing when originality or going against the grain might actually be a better option.