The Risk of Breaking the Stranglehold of Conformity

About 20 years ago an Afghan man called Abdul converted from Islam to Christianity, an extremely rare occurrence in that part of the world. Following this conversion his life as he knew it collapsed around him. His wife divorced him, he lost all custody of his children, and his parents disowned him. He was arrested, and during his trial the prosecutor asked for the death penalty.

After international pressure, Abdul was released and granted asylum in Europe, as the threat to his life by remaining in his home country was too great.

This is an extreme case, but highlights something that is actually fairly common in our society. Our beliefs represent a kind of membership to a group of believers. Relinquishing the belief often involves relinquishing our status within the group.

I my experience though, the feeling is often mutual: once the belief ceases to be attractive to us, those who hold it can become less appealing as well. This can make it a little easier to escape Shouldland.

This case also highlights another phenomenon about Shouldland. What really gets you into trouble with your tribe in Shouldland isn’t holding a belief it scorns, it is abandoning a belief it values. Life might be more difficult for born and bred non-Muslims living in Afghanistan, but they don’t attempt to sentence you to death for it. It was the rejection of a belief he once held so dearly that landed Abdul in so much trouble.

Within your own tribe you can have differences of opinion with others, however if you drop a cherished value that you once previously shared with the other members of your tribe (because you were in Shouldland) the consequences are much worse.

Shultz notes that “while insular groups are relatively immune to outside opinion, they are highly dependent on reinforcement of their belief system from within”. I see this as a positive – that internal dissent can be deeply destabilizing to a belief. It seems it takes only two people (you and one other) to begin to break the stranglehold of conformity.

If only two people can potentially threaten the cohesion of a community of believers, it threatens their idea of ‘the truth’. The whole point about the truth is that it is supposed to be universal. The dissenters expose the formally thought of ‘truth’ as nothing more than a ‘belief’, even to the believers of that belief, and may cause more questioning of the tribe’s traditions.

So that’s how we get to ‘the truth’ – by having no beliefs.

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2 Responses to The Risk of Breaking the Stranglehold of Conformity

  1. Johnny G says:

    Are you saying we need to reject our families if we don’t have the same beliefs? Seems a little harsh!

    • Shouldland says:

      I’m not saying you have to leave your tribe (family, friends, colleagues) and never communicate with them again. What I am saying is that the nature of your relationship must change for you to be a truly free, independent person. No longer do you need to be influenced by others in your tribe on how you ‘should’ live. You can make 100% of your own decisions on your life, and remain close to your family, friends etc. You may lose a little of that closeness until they can appreciate your life choices, and honestly that may never fully happen. You have to do this for yourself.

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