The need to fit in is a primal one for the human brain, and its power over our thinking and actions can often lead to completely counterproductive behaviors. As a person begins to understand who they are and to observe how that is different from the expectations of the environment they are in, a choice presents itself: protect and nurture the differences, or hide them. No single choice is always the right answer, and the options are not a binary set of This or That / Yes or No choices — they exist along a continuum of more risky Individualistic Deviance on the one hand and more comforting Group Conformity on the other.
This is a tricky minefield to navigate. When you need to stand out, your social biology works against you; when you need to conform, narcissism and pride can rise up in opposition. The Resistance has a variety of weapons in its arsenal, and it grows stronger the more you move in the direction most unnatural (and likely most beneficial) to you.
When the crush of Conformity weighs heaviest against Individuality —
- Optimism is harder while Hopelessness is easier;
- Internal Peace is harder while Frustration is easier;
- Leading is harder while Compliance is easier.
When Submission to the Group is best despite what Pride says —
- Trust is harder while Cynicism is easier;
- Listening is harder while Certainty is easier;
- Leading is harder while Trouble-making is easier.
Nearly 2,400 years ago, Aristotle described virtues as being the mean between two related extremes. From Chapter 8 of Book 2 of Nicomachean Ethics:
There are three kinds of disposition, then, two of them vices, involving excess and deficiency respectively, and one a virtue, viz. the mean, and all are in a sense opposed to all; for the extreme states are contrary both to the intermediate state and to each other, and the intermediate to the extremes; as the equal is greater relatively to the less, less relatively to the greater, so the middle states are excessive relatively to the deficiencies, deficient relatively to the excesses, both in passions and in actions. For the brave man appears rash relatively to the coward, and cowardly relatively to the rash man; and similarly the temperate man appears self-indulgent relatively to the insensible man, insensible relatively to the self-indulgent, and the liberal man prodigal relatively to the mean man, mean relatively to the prodigal. Hence also the people at the extremes push the intermediate man each over to the other, and the brave man is called rash by the coward, cowardly by the rash man, and correspondingly in the other cases.
As with Bravery, Leading for impact means threading the needle between the two extremes of Compliant Conformity and Destructive Deviance, and the virtuous road between the two isn’t a straight one. The undulating terrain of context and situation require wisdom, discretion, and a keen sense of purpose in making the right adjustment in the moment between getting in line and stepping out from it. One key to remember as you navigate these turns: it is never about YOU.
- When you need to stand out, it isn’t to bring attention to yourself — it is to break the pattern of conformity so that the GROUP can benefit from the result.
- When you need to blend in, it isn’t to bring comfort and security to yourself — it is to remove the friction that is slowing the GROUP’s progress towards completing the GROUP’s mission.