“I think the reward for conformity is that everyone likes you except yourself.”

Rita Mae Brown

Consider for a moment a duck. Now, this isn’t your average duck waddling aimlessly in the park, no. Picture instead a duck on a conveyor belt, one of a million identical feathered bodies moving in perfect synchrony. Each duck, the carbon copy of the one before, all designed to fulfill a single function—to blend in, to comply, to conform.

It’s a monotonous, mind-numbing spectacle, isn’t it? But isn’t this very spectacle also oddly reassuring? You see, the world of these identical ducks is predictable, safe, without the hazard of surprises or unexpected disruptions. There’s a comforting uniformity to it all.

Now, if you’re like most of us, you may see the lure of such a world, because it promises the reward of social acceptance. Ah, conformity! That sweet siren’s song that lulls us into a sense of security, of belonging. There’s an unspoken agreement we make: I’ll be just like you, and in return, you’ll accept me. And so, we become like those ducks, marching dutifully on the conveyor belt of societal expectations.

But here’s the rub. While conformity may garner us nods of approval and rounds of applause from the outside world, does it truly resonate within? Do you still recognize the face in the mirror, or has it morphed into a collage of societal ideals and expectations? Does the duck on the conveyor belt see its own reflection in the waters below and understand itself to be unique or merely one among millions?

You see, the reward for conformity is that everyone likes you, except perhaps, the person that matters most—yourself. There is a certain existential alienation that comes with giving up one’s distinctiveness for the sake of fitting in. Yes, you become everyone’s cup of tea, but at the risk of forgetting the unique flavor of your own brew.

It’s not that conformity is inherently evil or destructive. No, it’s more subtle than that. Like a beautiful painting turned into a grayscale photocopy, conformity risks leaching the vibrant colors of individuality, of personal passion, and unique flair.

Is it worth it? This trade-off? For a moment, imagine the conveyor belt stops, and among the sea of identical ducks, one finds its own rhythm, its unique quack. It might be odd, even unnerving at first, but isn’t there also something deeply exhilarating about it? Isn’t it true that we often admire those who break the mold, who dare to be different?

Perhaps it’s time to ask yourself: Would you rather be a beloved duck on the conveyor belt, indistinguishable from the masses, or the one that embraces its unique waddle and quack, even at the risk of standing out? In other words, would you rather be liked by everyone else, or truly loved by yourself?

Because the cost of conformity, the real cost, is not about being disliked by others; it’s about disliking yourself. And when it comes to the grand tapestry of life, isn’t the vibrant, colorful thread of self-love far more enriching than the gray, uniform stitch of conformity?

Stephen Boudreau serves as VP of Brand and Community at Virtuous Software. For over two decades, he has helped nonprofits leverage the digital space to grow their impact. To that end, Stephen co-founded RaiseDonors, a platform that provides nonprofits with technology and experiences that remove barriers to successful online fundraising. He is an avid (but aging) soccer player, audiobook enthusiast, and the heavily-disputed UNO champion of his household.

Copyright ©2023 Stephen Boudreau.