In the late 1930′s, General Motors board chairman Alfred Sloan led a discussion and vote on a new and exciting idea. The room became electric with enthusiasm. “We’ll make a lot of money,” they said. “We’ll bury the competition,” a board member said. “We should implement this as soon as possible,” another said.
When Sloan saw that the vote was unanimous, he announced that he was tabling the motion until the next month’s meeting. “I don’t like what’s happening to our thinking,” he said.
“We’re getting locked into looking at this idea in just one way and this is a dangerous way to make decisions,” Sloan told the board. “I want each of you to spend the next month studying this proposal from a different perspective.”
When the board met the next month, the proposal was discussed again. It was voted down.
Sometimes we easily fall in line with the majority. If the group is moving left, we tend to move left. If the group is going up, we will follow the group up. Conformity isn’t always a good thing.
There are benefits to conforming, however. As a member of a society that drives a car regularly, I’m grateful that we conform to traffic rules and laws. I’m glad everyone drives on the right side of the road. I’m glad everyone (usually) obeys traffic lights.
Lots of our behaviors conform to the people around us. We must pronounce words a certain way in order to communicate with others. We stand in a check-out line in an orderly fashion at a store. We bus our own tables after we’ve eaten at a fast-food restaurant.
Centuries ago, St. Augustine was confused. In Milan, he observed the Sabbath on Saturday. When he visited Rome, he discovered that the Romans observed the Sabbath on Sunday. Augustine asked his mentor, Bishop Ambrose, for advice. Ambrose told him, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
Conforming to society can be a good thing, but we can choose to be different in areas of our life when the direction of the group is not so wise.
In church world, where I live, churches meet in many different places. Some churches meet in homes, others meet in restaurants, some rent school buildings, some churches build frugal metal buildings, and other churches meet in ornate palaces.
But it’s not about where you meet, it’s about why you meet.
When it comes to being different you need to ask yourself, “Why?” Why do you desire to be different? Don’t be different just to be different or to draw attention to yourself. Be different to make a difference.
Being different can be as simple as drinking fair trade coffee to do your small part in the cause of global work equality or it can be as radical as selling all of your belongings and moving to another country to work with the poor.
Being different means not conforming and doing things just because everyone else does it. Being different means following your heart, your passions, and your convictions so that you can lead a happy, fruitful, and productive life regardless of the majority’s opinion.
Being different can mean:
- not trying to keep up with the Joneses.
- living on 80% of your income instead of 110%.
- limiting the amount of clothes in your closet. (See Project 333)
- not buying a new car every three years.
- taking a week of vacation to work on a mission.
- maintaining moral, ethical, and sexual purity. (Unfortunately, this is becoming rare.)
Before you conform to the crowd, ask yourself, “Why?” Saying “Yes!” just because everyone else is saying yes is not a good reason.
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