Tuesday, June 29, 2010

I can see you, but you can't see me.

Imagine a park with hundreds of people sitting down, perhaps having a nice picnic, or just taking a break from all the stress in their lives. Suddenly, music starts being played from the large building across the road to try and promote a more cheerful environment, people enjoying what they do. A person gets up and starts dancing to the music. Nobody gets up at first and it can be said that the person dancing is rebelling against the norm and not conforming to the rest of the group. The people sitting down are conforming to each other. However, a second person decides to get up and join the first, then a few more, and more. Soon, you have every person but one dancing to the music. The person sitting down is rebelling against the new norm and is not conforming.

The questions I propose in this scenario is: At what stage did conformity shift? When did the rebellious person become a leader of conformity?

I ask this because conformity itself is a very strange concept. There is no universal definition of what conformity is composed of and no standard of measurement to express when conformity occurs. So if there is no universal way of knowing what conformity is, how do we know we are conforming to anything at all? If a lawyer turned up in board shorts to a courthouse, we say he/she is not conforming to the traditions, but if all the lawyers turned up in board shorts to a courthouse, are they still not conforming to the traditions? Who established these traditions anyway? Well, humans did. So if we can establish traditions about conformity, can't we also change them?

Why do we need to change traditions? Well, Australia is a multi-cultural society and currently, we are in the debate of whether Middle-Eastern women should be allowed to wear those things that cover their entire faces and show no facial features apart from the eyes (Sorry, I don't know the proper name). So the argument is that they should be banned from wearing them in Australia (in the public) because it is quote: "un-Australian" and not part of the Australian culture. They are not conforming and accepting Australian "values". Well, that's all nice, but if women didn't wear them in the Middle-Eastern countries, then the Western people are not conforming to their culture. If every woman wore it in Australia, does it change the idea about conformity? Vice versa in the Middle-Eastern countries.

We say we need to accept other cultures and 'tolerate' them, yet we ask them to conform to the Australian way of life, dubbing everything that seems unusual "un-Australian". Perhaps we change our traditions and our perceptions to change how conformity is viewed.

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