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Does "Socialization" Equal "Conformity"?
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I've always thought of conformist behavior and dress and small talk as a kind of protective coloring, camoflage. Especially in situations where unorthodox appearance or a sense of humor could be misunderstood. And most especially in situations where intelligence--a display of comprehension and pattern recognition--would be taken as a threat or aggression. Or of being an uppity woman.

I grew up in a small New England town. Village, really. Not fitting in was the worst social sin. (We weren't cursed with axe-murderers or God forbid! street walkers).

I've come to realize, that from high school on, fitting in, seeming normal or average, has been very important to me, not to be noticed or singled out as strange, unusual, superior or outstanding. In some ways it has been very self-protective; in others, self-defeating.

We were told that our high school experiences ought to develop our "character", but what administration and teachers meant by character was less developing personal integrity and more and more being a good team player. Not individual excellence but comfort in being a member of a group.

This theme continued at work, where constant assaults on one's personal integrity were soothed by the advice that being a team player was the greater good.

And all my life I've heard cutting remarks about the cultural and intellectual elite, who listen to Bach for breeakfast and, by nature of being intelligent and educated, cannot therefore understand "real" life or be blessed with the "commonsense" of the average man.

Intelligence has become the new disability, the one no one mentions in polite company. And good manners, which were intended to reflect empathy for others, have devolved into much-despised polite claptrap.

Children have to be socialized; after all, we are social animals living in close quarters. And conformity to norms is part of socialization. Are nonconformists a threat to society? Is idiosyncracy a sign of maladaptation? Where is the line to be drawn?

Or should there be a line at all?

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