Social conformity is a joke, right? Nah dawg. It is a legitimate behavioral response to peer pressure (or group pressure). Everyone seems like they are just trying to “fit in.” Fit into whichever group they find appealing, seeking recognition/validation while disregarding their values, or just adapting in order to make it out alive. Social conformity is a normal occurrence in society, and since the military is a “microcosm” of society, it is just as normal within the military. You have to conform TWICE. Why though? You are already forced to obey and comply with all the orders and regulations that come with serving in the military – why lose yourself in the process? Maybe it is due to naïveté or the desire to fit the bill. Ask someone who has served a period of their life spanning from youth until a point in which they reached a certain level of maturity and experience: why did you conform?
You will be surprised at the similar answers and even more surprised by the rare people who say they didn’t conform. Cheers to those rare folks. Roughly 33% of those enlisted on active duty across all services in 2017 (based on the slow-to-report statistics from the amazing U.S. Census Bureau) were 18 years old. That is a lot of kids who are walking right into the conformity trap! I recall those early years of my military career in which <insert your supervisor here> was “God” and “Dad” at the same time. Yet God-Dad was really just worried about you towing the line and showing up to work on time. It was all those sleazy coworkers who found joy in putting you through whatever test(s) required to be a part of their club. Impressionable, scared, finding myself, and maturing into an adult all while trying to learn my new job and prepare to deploy. I think everyone in the military experiences the transition from civilian to servicemember – and only they would understand the growing pains.
Not to say your traditional teenager/young adult wouldn’t understand social conformity – the factors in their life might be similar. A college kid, on their own for the first time, finding themselves while they are immersed in a new culture and copious amounts of homework. They might empathize with a young servicemember. Still, I don’t feel that it holds a candle to life in the military. Imagine yourself a young kid, far from home, going through training, learning a trade, preparing to go to war. Okay, maybe we are not all preparing to go to “war.” The Navy is preparing to go on a destination cruise… where they work 5 hours every 10 hours, eat subpar prison food, and visit third-world countries to display the far-reaching strength of the United States Navy. Yeah yeah, the Navy does other stuff, but you get the damn point. The desire to fit in out in the civilian world doesn’t compare to the desire + requirement to fit in within the military.
Looking back – with no regrets. Seriously? Seriously. Still alive? Yep. Learned some things along the way that made me better? Yep. Currently incarcerated? Nope. I chalk it all up as a win. You should too if you are in the same boat. Would I tell “young me” to chill, be himself, and put less effort towards fitting in? Hell yeah. Conforming to life in the military is already crushing enough, no need to make an excessive attempt at trying to fit in within whatever social circle your ally yourself with. Sh*t, don’t even “ally” yourself with a social circle – just do you!
Feel like you are falling victim to social conformity? Don’t. Don’t be the victim and don’t allow yourself to change who you are/want to be just so that you can be one of the boys (or girls). It is 2020 for f*cks sake. Take pride in your individuality, seek out the truest form of yourself, and thrive in the way that you see fit. Today’s society is more accepting of almost everything you can think of – society (and the military) can accept you for “you.” Unless you are a dirtbag, then the military isn’t accepting that form of person. Sorry.
Feel like you are forcing people to conform to societal “norms?” Don’t. Don’t think that doing so is a required act (the bullied becoming the bully) and don’t allow yourself to repeat history. You remember “young” you. That advice that you would give them? Give it to other young, impressionable souls. Make an impact by guiding them down the path where they seek out what makes them tick. Don’t be a Richard.