It's a well-documented fact that Rush is the greatest rock and roll trio that ever toured the planet. Neil Peart not only has superhuman abilities as a drummer, but he's a gifted lyricist as well. In the chorus of Subdivisions (Signals, 1982; music video here), he captures that all-to-familiar pressure to conform to those standards established by our peer group, or risk being cast out. It makes for a another excellent Rock & Roll Parable.*
(Lyrics by Neil Peart)
Sprawling on the fringes of the city
In geometric order
An insulated border
In between the bright lights
And the far unlit unknown
Growing up it all seems so one-sided
Opinions all provided
The future pre-decided
Detached and subdivided
In the mass production zone
Nowhere is the dreamer or the misfit so alone
In the high school halls
In the shopping malls
Conform or be cast out
In the basement bars
In the backs of cars
Be cool or be cast out
Any escape might help to smooth the unattractive truth
But the suburbs have no charms to soothe the restless dreams of youth
Drawn like moths we drift into the city
The timeless old attraction
Cruising for the action
Lit up like a firefly
Just to feel the living night
Some will sell their dreams for small desires
Or lose the race to rats
Get caught in ticking traps
And start to dream of somewhere
To relax their restless flight
Somewhere out of a memory of lighted streets on quiet nights ...
Since humans are innately social creatures, they feel pressure to conform to the standards of the peer groups to which they belong. Every day, virtually every sentient person feels this pressure to some degree. It is not limited to young people with tattoos, stupid haircuts or ridiculous fashion statements; it goes all the way up the food chain. When an older generation describes this phenomenon in a younger generation, they call it peer pressure. It is usually (and often rightfully) portrayed as bad. Non-conformity is frequently generational, with the younger generation rejecting conformity with the older one. Accordingly, themes of non-conformity are extremely common in Rock and Roll. Watch Pink Floyd's Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2) for Roger Water's bold rejection of conformity over thirty years ago.
An honest look in the mirror confirms that we are all conformists at some level. I guess there would be total anarchy if it weren't so. Even so, conformity is almost always painted in a negative light.** Non-conformity, on the other hand, is celebrated—or at least given lip service. But even non-conformists feel the pressure of their peers to adhere to the code of standards dictated by their fellow non-conformists. While pop culture says 'be yourself' and 'anything goes,' it simultaneously snarks 'you're still a virgin?' or 'you don't have a tattoo?' It has all become very predictable: boob jobs, glabrous pecs and abs, regulation tattoos (tribals and sleeves for guys; florals and butterflies for ladies) and only the sanctioned name brands. Though this is supposed to be a celebration of individuality, it is mimicry and conformity taken to astonishing levels. Our public self is often only skin-deep. Neil Peart nailed it in 1982 and it's still true today: conform or be cast out.
Over the last decade the volume of the long-standing dialogue about non-conformism in the Church has increased. Pressure to conform for some has been so intense that they part ways with the Church. In most cases they leave; in some cases they are sent on their way. Either way it is tragic. It is the duty of every disciple of Jesus Christ to try and follow His example. If we can see others as He sees them, then non-conformity won't be such a big deal. In fact, it would largely become irrelevant.
Yet at some level strict conformity has to be part of the discussion of those that would be members of this Church. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland's 2003 General Conference talk is a masterful plea for conformity on things that matter most. His talk was primarily about the responsibility of parents to be conformist when it comes down to the foundational aspects of the gospel. When speaking of such things as devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ and the reality of the Restoration of His Church and His continued direction of its leaders, Elder Holland said:
In such basic matters of faith, prophets do not apologize for requesting unity, indeed conformity … To lead a child (or anyone else), even inadvertently, away from faithfulness, away from loyalty and bedrock belief simply because we want to be clever or independent is license no parent or any other person has been given. In matters of religion a skeptical mind is not a higher manifestation of virtue than is a believing heart.Let's face it, we all need to realize that the world is a diverse place. If the Church intends to be relevant globally we need to change some of our views about people that are different from the stereotypical Mormon. At the same time, there isn't any room to compromise on the foundational principles of faith that define who we are as Latter-day Saints. Both conformist and non-conformists alike need to meet somewhere in the middle.
* We're always looking for more Rock & Roll Parables, so submit your own as a guest post. The Bible Dictionary says: "In parables divine truth is presented by comparison with material things." We're going with this definition of parable, so let this be your guide in your submissions.
** The Urban Dictionary defines a conformist as "Society's Bitch."
Reid is an endocrinologist from Henderson, Nevada. He's blessed with wonderful wife and three great kids. His interests are charitably characterized as eclectic: cycling, fly-fishing, history, travel and the coinage of the Flavian dynasty of Imperial Rome. With a deep-seated belief that people habitually do dumb things, he's trying really hard to keep things positive. People are not making it any easier these days. The gospel has helped a lot. Blog: stunnedbanana.blogspot.com.
Image credit: Patrick Brady (used with permission).