We impressionable students

Can you stand against the masses? That sounds like the title of a useless, new reality show. The beauty of the title lies within the understated irony.

Conformity is a social concept that we all claim to reject. However, after any given day on campus, I tend to question the validity of such a claim. The blatantly obvious examples of conformity, behavioral as well as physical, are making it increasingly difficult to differentiate between one classmate and the next. Between our material possessions and our outspoken (or not) ideals, there doesn’t seem to be much room for what we impressionable students really think.

Perhaps my enrollment experience has been limited strictly to “quiet” classes, but I do not think that is the case. In accordance with the adage, “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt,” rarely is there an in-class comment outside of the occasional “Is this going to be on the test?” I have, however, seen the aforementioned proverb at work on the other side of the circumstance. Once an interested party gets the ball rolling, discussion has the potential to be very interesting and satisfying. The problem lies within gaining the initial participation of the interested party. This calls for professors to seek such a leader so the others will follow. What makes us so timid? Such group hesitance is unjustified. What is justified, however, is my base assumption that my enrollment experience has been limited to “conformed” classes.

Unfortunately, mass conformity does not end at class behavior. Whenever I leave my apartment, I count Coach handbags. This eccentricity, which originated during a conversation with a friend, has developed into a habit. Over one small fraction of an afternoon, I counted over one hundred Coach handbags to prove my point that too many females (and some males) are carrying essentially the same purse. This handbag epidemic is an example of the power of the status symbol at work. Our natural affinity toward conspicuous consumption is the most obvious form of conformity I know. This notion is not human-specific. Beasts in the animal kingdom follow each other to attain the best things in order to impress a potential mate. Are our material addictions (handbags, shoes, iPods, stereo systems, etc.) really helping us in this arena? I doubt it.

By all means, do not misinterpret my intent. This is not a sermon; I do not lecture. I am as socially compliant as can be. I feel I have little or no input of value and I carry a beautiful new Coach purse. This is neither hypocrisy nor complaint. This is merely an idle observation of what is.

Where is our individualistic dignity? This dilemma reminds me of a particular scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Brian, a young Jewish man mistaken for the Messiah shouts to a crowd of misguided disciples, “You don’t need to follow me, you don’t need to follow anybody! You’ve got to think for yourselves! You are all individuals!” Brian is dumbfounded when the mob replies to him in unison, “Yes, we are all individuals . . . We are all different.”

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