An issue that I think effects a lot of people in society today is conformity. Conformity is ingrained in everyone because it is just simply human nature, but I think it is magnified by the structure of modern society.
Common beliefs and standards are something that are grossly apparent in areas like Flanagan or Streator because our towns are so small and like-minded. Growing up in tight-knit and strongly opinionated communities can be awesome for some, but also extremely detrimental for other young adults.
I know in towns around here, ideas like farming and sports are super important to members of the community. That is great for the people who are passionate about those things. These small towns are so committed to these few things that sometimes others are overshadowed. Someone who has other passions might get pushed to the wayside, or someone who has a different opinion than the majority might be looked down upon.
Conformity is common practice in towns like these. In the recent research I did in my sociology class, I found most people in a given situation will forfeit their own original ideas to conform to what a larger group believes. This was proven in an experiment performed by psychologist Arthur Jenness.
In the experiment, participants were asked to guess how many beans were in a jar. When asked personally, their answers varied widely. But once the participants were all put into a group, most of the participants changed their answers to conform to what the rest of the group thought.
This happens with students every single day in our society, whether it be someone being silenced by the fear of being different or joining an activity they don’t have a passion for to fit in. I think the cycle of conformity that we see in small towns is one that needs to be broken. There are so many amazing people with passion, talent and innovative ideas that we may not even realize because of this invisible standard.
When these barriers are broken down, and new ideas are spoken, amazing things happen. Martin Luther King Jr. is a perfect example of speaking up and being passionate. The common belief in his society was that African-Americans didn’t deserve the same rights as white people. Rather than conform to what the majority agreed on, King used his voice and followed his passions.
When we think of Martin Luther King Jr., we think of the day we get off from school, but it is so much more than that. King was ridiculed, threatened and as we all know, eventually assassinated for his passion to stand out. The reason that we fear individuality is because we fear the ridicule that comes with it. They go hand in hand, but the difference between someone who conforms to that social norm and someone who challenges it is bravery. Bravery to speak up, bravery to stand by your beliefs and bravery to stand alone.
King didn’t enjoy standing alone; it wasn’t a safe or happy place. It was scary, terrifying. This is the same for anyone who stands alone. Whether it be a different opinion, interest or lifestyle. But the light at the end of the tunnel is that through all of his hardship and struggle, King came out a hero.
We have a national holiday every year to honor his hard work and accomplishments. Martin Luther King Jr. is a superhero with a superpower called bravery. Beautiful, amazing things happen when we challenge the norm and find our superpower.
So next time you are given a choice to speak up or keep quiet, I challenge you to speak up. I challenge you to follow your passion. I challenge you to stand alone. I challenge you to be your own superhero.
MOLLY GARRETSON is a senior at Flanagan-Cornell High School. To contact her, email Assistant Editor Julie Barichello at firstname.lastname@example.org.