Anyone who has decided to strike off the mainstream path has experienced this: Strong admonitions and warnings against what they were doing, and pressures not do it.
It doesn't really matter what it is you're trying to change. If you're trying to become a nondrinker in a drinking culture, if you're trying to quit eating junk food, if you're trying to become a vegetarian or otherwise have a different diet, this will have happened to you.
If you decide to pursue a nontraditional career path (artist, entrepreneur, etc), you will have experienced this.
If you try to live a different lifestyle than the people around you - for instance, rising each day at 4:30AM and sleeping early instead of partying, you will have experienced this.
People will pressure and cajole you in many different ways to keep doing it the old way. Almost always, it will be phrased as though they're looking after your best interest.
The specifics will vary. It could be phrased as cautious prudence - "What if your business doesn't succeed and you don't have a college degree? That could be really bad for you."
It could be phrased as desiring for you to have the best way in life - "Go on, live a little, a beer won't kill you."
It could be encouraging you to do whatever you've set out to change without any specific reasoning at all.
I used to wonder why this is so common. Are people stupid? Or malicious? They must be one of those two.
If someone has a preference that has an expected value of a better life for them and they really want to live that preference, then why would someone that's in their peer group or family want to discourage them? Is it because they have different calculations of what's valuable, even when pursuing obvious no-brainer decisions like quitting the lowest quality junk foods? Is it because they're malicious and want to hold you back and tear you down?
I think now - neither. Rather, I think it's an uncritical, unexamined form of desire for equality.
The egalitarian instinct is strong in humans. Most people want others to do and act broadly similar to them. It's almost an affront if you don't live the normal way - do you think you're better than them? No matter how subtle, gracious, or modest you try to be about it, it makes people feel bad if you're breaking from the egalitarian way.
There's plenty of research on this. High performers getting punished or shunned.
The French in the title is probably wrong (you're welcome to correct it if you're fluent), but I think it has a nice ring to it - Egalité Irréfléchie. Unthinking egalitarianism.
There's a place for some egalitarianism in the world. A desire to bring others up, to open opportunities for others, to decentralize knowledge, to make resources available for people who want to use them.
But that's a thoughtful egalitarianism, that examines how we can get everyone to be better. An unthinking egalitarianism generally promotes the status quo and punishes people who strive to do better.
But it's not stupid or malicious. Stupidity implies poor judgment and malice implies poor motivations. Rather, the egalitarian instinct appears to be natural to most people. Pressures on you to conform (even when conforming is bad for your health and life) are not made out of stupidity or malicious intent, but rather from a natural instinctual drive towards equality that was never carefully examined.
This reminds me of a discussion with a friend of mine. He asked me how I justify that I'am vegetarian (vegan now even). I told him that I don't have to justify myself, because I don't do anything wrong. Then I asked him how he justifies eating meat. His answer was that he doesn't need to justify himself, because he has the majority position, but I would have to justify myself, because I was in the minority.
I think that's pretty typical of the general situation. If you don't follow the mainstream, people demand a justification for that. Like "Hey, why aren't you doing what everyone else is doing (even if that makes no sense)?" Conformity is a meme. It exists for its own sake. It reproduces itself effectively, even if it serves no purpose.
This is a nice take on an old condition, previously identified as 'conformity vs. non-conformity.' Rather than a desire to be equal, I see it as a reflection of the conformists' cognition; in order to avoid, cognitive dissonance in their choices, they prefer to see their choices reflected by others in society, which confirms the rightness of their choice. Any sign of deviation causes them to question their course, which makes them uncomfortable. Conformity values safety within the herd above all else, even though herds often tend to run off the edge of a cliff together.
I think the largest example in recent memory is the US govt. led decision to invade Iraq. There was a conformist movement in society to enforce solidarity behind this decision, even though those of us who studied the matter carefully could see the case was built on lies and deception. Nevertheless, we were the ones who were pilloried, for following our own conclusions rather than defaulting to the consensus. Even though time has proven that case to be false, the conformists appear to have valued the decision to conform at all costs to be more important than the need for clear thinking.
Just be careful. When you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back into you. The more you find yourself acting like the sheep, the easier it will become. Too much, and you could easily fall into the Abyss of the Average.
This is actually a very pragmatic way of going about things. To sum up, choose your battles.
Also, it is actually more effective to show someone by example (leadership) than to tell them to 'do this' or 'do that'.
I am not afraid to put on a sheep costume for my daily life. For much of what I do, I am forced to interact with with people who have conventional ideas, and of course, my boss isn't a big fan of my desire to push boundaries and break rules. My solution is to make an alternate personality. Justifying or even avoiding to justify your my reasons for doing things differently is draining, and I risk allowing the negative attitudes of others to infect me. Instead, I just put on my sheep costume and act the part.
"No, I love to drink my face off every night of the week, but I have a meeting at 0700 tomorrow."
"Its not that I am insane. I just can't seem to seem to sleep in past 0500 even if I want to. I think I have insomnia or something, so I just head to the gym as long as I am up."
"Yes, academic advisor/mom/dad, I spend all my time studying rather than starting side projects, learning additional material, and joining interesting clubs, but school was so hard that I couldn't get a higher grade than just your minimum requirements."
My sheep costume saves me a lot of time an energy as well as winning over more friends. Sure I am tough enough and loud enough to beat most negative attitudes, but that is draining. I can't keep that up for ever, and I don't want to be making enemies all the time. Instead of agreeing to disagree, I just agree. Then I continue to do things my way.
My personal favorite:
"You are always working on your computer. What the heck are you doing over there?"
"Nothing much, just browsing reddit."
I could try to change others to agree with me, but that is often rude and usually impossible. Better to just side step the conversation and save your energy for something more important. You could define it as lying, but for everyday conversations, it is pretty useful. Some people react well to non conventional plans and idea such as people on this site. Spotting another in a sheep costume isn't so hard. We can still take them off behind closed doors.
In "Unseen Academicals" by Terry Pratchett there's a great image about this unthinking egalitarianism: crabs in a bucket. When one of the characters gets a big opportunity, people around her try to discourage her from taking it, and one of the people offering it says "crabs in a bucket" in an exasperated tone of voice. She doesn't get it, but later in the book she sees a fish vendor at the market, and he explains that he doesn't need to keep a lid on his crab bucket to keep them from escaping, for as soon as one tries to climb out, the other crabs pull it back down.
I'll be the devil's advocate here. Most of my life I have done non-conventional things and faced this kind of pressure. It is strongest from those who are closest to you - and I think it has a lot to do with protectiveness. For most people, the conventional ways have the highest payoff: expected return = probability times max value. So even if max value is lower, the probability of achieving that is higher. Whereas for things with higher max value (starting a business) the probability of success is lower - so some people just want to protect you from getting hurt.
However (and I'm off my advocacy horse now), most people who want you to join in their debauchery are just being stupid. Like that beer comment - I've seen that a lot too and it makes no sense to me.
And of course some people just want to enforce their political/religious views on you and are more evangelists then friends (this based on horrible experience that happened to a friend who got an abortion...)
A couple days ago, I told a Nigerian engineer to "Work online. Use freelancing sites. Lie about the country you’re in. [...] There’s a big stigma against Nigeria. That’s just reality, and you need to deal with it."
A reader replies -
I feel for this guy but I am surprised you recommend lying. There has to be another way. ... I have a problem with lying, period, and perhaps I’ve misunderstood Sebastian but I think he stands for straightforwardness.
Let's talk about this straightforwardly, like adults, like grown-ups.
Most people won't do that. It's inherently weird. Most people don't own up to the fact that they lie, yet almost everyone does so. A lot, actually.
My fiancee, Fanfan, is Chinese. She's awesome. It's why we're engaged to be married. A big part of our relationship is mutual respect, and it's 'respect' that I wanted to write about today.
In the past I've had relationships with both Caucasian (western) women and Asian women, and after a number of different experiences I came to understand it was Asian women that had the kinds of attitudes I wanted in a relationship.
Over the years I had come to feel that western women just didn't have the attitude I was looking for in a relationship or in a partner. I had a number of experiences and realisations in my life that helped me realise I was more interested in being with an Asian woman than a western woman. The main reason for this was that throughout the relationships I'd had and the things that I'd learnt, what stuck out was that Asian women respect what their men do for them, something that in my experience most western women do not.
From my experiences with Asian women and learning about their culture, I discovered that many westerners misunderstand what they see as Asian submissiveness, which is instead respect and appreciation for someone who cares for them.
Something which is lacking in many western women.