Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Conforming to what?

Never underestimate the influence of the group in which you keep company. Jesus understood the power of “the group.”  “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19, ESV).

Sociologists identify this as the conformity effect. The concept suggests that when an individual is a part of a group, he or she will naturally and unavoidably begin to conform to the values and activities of the group.  Generally, this act of conformity is classified into two groups, informational conformity, which is when an individual does what the group suggests because he or she lacks the information to make a decision, and normative conformity, the dominant form of social conformity, where an individual goes along with the actions of a group to be liked or accepted.  Both of these kinds of conformity impact us every day.  Sometimes this can be positive for the community, such as the social norm of obeying traffic signals or respecting the property rights of other people.  However, history shows us an example of atrocity on a catastrophic level when typically decent people conformed to the policies of Nazi Germany.

The Apostle Paul understood the power of conformity when he wrote to the Romans, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2, ESV). Paul’s powerful reminder to us as individuals, as ambassadors of Christ, is that we should be actively examining our actions, words, and beliefs so that we will remain in conformity with Christ.

When you find yourself in a situation that is not familiar, ask yourself whether or not the actions or proposed beliefs are consistent with your own principles and those of Christ before automatically adopting them as your own.  Likewise, be honest with yourself in situations where you want to impress others or be accepted by a group.  Ask yourself if the actions proposed by the group compromise your own integrity.

Philip Zimbardo, author of The Lucifer Effect and current researcher in areas of teen bullying, writes: “To resist the powers of group conformity: know what you stand for; determine how really important it is that these other people like you, especially when they are strangers; recognize that there are other groups who would be delighted to have you as a member; take a future perspective to imagine what you will think of your current conforming action at some time in the future.”

An ancient term for baptism was “christening.” It literally means “to become Christ.” We all will conform. Will you be the reflection of Christ to the groups in which you live, work, and worship?

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