Sociology and Philosophy Questions and Answers
by Émile Durkheim

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 What are some benefits and downfalls of nonconformity?  

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Conformity to social unwritten laws carries with it some assurance of safety, of acceptance, of normalcy. But the benefits of nonconformity, while somewhat more abstract and tentative, can be overwhelming. Let us take as an example the unwritten “dress code” of high school students (excluding for a moment the written dress codes of some private schools). If there is a current style trend (usually driven by the media, famous trend-setters, and self-appointed fashion gurus), then to follow those codes gives one a sense of “belonging,” of being “with it,” of “being popular.” With that status comes social comfort, popularity, and security.

The student, however, who chooses (or by economic, religious, or other pressure is forced) to deviate from that unwritten code sacrifices that social security; the benefits, however, are a reputation for individuality, for daring, for a strong sense of identity; those nonconformists may also discover that they are trendsetters in their own right.

Taking this example to a higher level, the nonconformist in the business world, in the entertainment industry (where nonconformity is greatly rewarded), in politics, etc. runs the risk of losing general acceptance, but may become a force in changing the world.

Uniforms, by definition, reduce one’s individuality in environments where conformity is the goal of the enterprise.  So, the “downfalls” are the loss of security and acceptance, while the “benefits” are innovation, individuality, and the opportunity to change “the way things are done.” The slogan of the nonconformist is “If it’s been done the same way for ten years, it’s being done wrong.”

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