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Thursday, February 17, 2022

Words That Can Haunt Me, Part 17: Conformity

"Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth." - John Fitzgerald Kennedy 

My first instinct stumbling onto that quote several months ago was to capture it in my notebook. After all, having always considered myself a non-conformist, keeping JFK's admonishment nearby might assist me whenever I was feeling sanctimonious - itself not a rare occurrence - and needed a way to kick off a blog post. Never hurts having a self-righteous quote ready to go, especially when the words are attributed to a good-looking martyred national hero.  

But as time passed, my better angel emerged, just a little. As my reflections on JFK's words got less self-congratulatory, the questions I began asking myself grew thornier. For example:

* How useful has it been labeling myself a "non-conformist" for so many years? How useful is it for anyone to label themselves as anything? How easily does self-labeling spill into labeling others?  

* What precisely have I not conformed to that I would choose to so label myself for all these years?

* In which domains of my life has conforming hindered my growth?

I'll save the "jailer of freedom" piece of JFK's formulation for another time. Because the thornier my questions get - and I expect they will get more so - the more I suspect I'll struggle to sort out what JFK himself might have said if someone asked what exactly he meant by "conformity". Conformity to what, Jack? For now, let's just say conformity is a word that haunts me. And until I get a better handle on that loaded word, I'm refraining from labeling myself a non-conformist and steering clear of being sanctimonious when citing that pithy quote. 


  1. Hello, Pat. I've always been intrigued by JFK. Most of that is usually surrounding conspiracy theory or non-conspiracy theory. And having just completed Stephen Kings '11/22/63', my thought process continues. By the way, if you've not yet indulged, it's a very interesting story.
    As for 'Conformity', I have mixed feelings. I try not to conform too much but I'm sure it has happened more times than I can recall. I try not to be influenced by others, but I'm just as sure that has happened. Although I would argue that agreement can easily be confused with influenced. And, adding to the confusion, is a desire to wanting to be on the 'right side' of things, the 'correct' side. Of course, if recent events have taught us anything, 'right' and 'correct' are such divisive words these days. I look forward to your feelings on 'jailer of freedom'.
    Be well,

    1. "Anonymous" Bob; Thanks for the comment. Glad to see you're keeping to your reading resolve, i.e. recently finishing "11/22/63". The line from being "influenced" moving toward agreeing/conforming is a fuzzy one, indeed.