CONFORMITY AND OBEDIENCE
Traditionally, clarifying the role of an individual in a group has been associated with the conformity and obedience in the group. According to Jolanda Jetten (2006), in order to be able to like or dislike other individuals or groups, group member must acquire “a sense of belonging to groups”. The sense must be clearly distinct from what the other groups have. Fiske (2004) stated that “conformity, going along with others, reflects adhering to group norms for behavior”(Fiske, 2004, p.511) Any individual who wants to be admitted to a group must show his or her conformity or her obedience to the group. Thus, all resolutions made by the group must be endorsed by all group members or at least the majority of the group. By that reason, conformity, or obedience are two important issues that need to be discussed hereafter.
There was a story about a group of people who survival from a collapse of a building but trapped in a room without light and means of communication. Immediately after the survivals recognized their situation, all of them were panic. Some of them cried out loudly. Few tried to find some ways to be rescued by hitting and stomping on whatever they could reach. Others sobbed silently. All of those noises made the group angrier and angrier. Suddenly, a flashlight flashed on a face of a man who calmly talked to the group, “Listen to me! Listen to me!” the man said, “I am a captain of a submarine. Don’t be afraid! I was in such situation twice! I know how to handle the problem.” Hearing those words, the survivals seemed a little calmer. “Trust me,” the man went on. “Years ago, my sailors and me were trapped in my boat that was going to sink due to technical problem. At first, we were scared. But then, under my supervision, all of the sailors kept calm. We worked together in silence and at last, we were saved.”
The man glanced to all the survivals who stay in the dark. “Now,” he seemed more determined. “We must find a way to be out of here. But we must do it in order. Nobody will cry. Nobody will panic. Just do as I do. Show your conformity to the group, and we will all be saved.” Then he talked and talked to keep the group in order. The survivals listened to him well. After about half a day, they were rescued safely. Nobody was hurt. All the group thanked the Captain except one little girl who whispered to the man’s ear. “I know you are not a Captain,” the girl smiled. “You’re the postman who deliver mails to my house. But I didn’t say anything. Anyway, thanks, Captain! Without you, we should hurt ourselves.”
In such situation, the conformity and obedience had helped the group greatly. All “group members” did what the leader and the others’ suggestions. Nobody argued although they did not know exactly who the man was. At last, the problem was solved in a peaceful manner. The influence of the “leader”, the false Captain, flowed from him to a person who stood next to him then spread out to others and make all the group believe. According to Fiske, the conformity means “belonging and understanding by doing what others do” (Fiske, 2004, p. 511).However, conformity, sometimes, is not hundred percent followed. Fiske states, “in 133 studies, the average participant conform 29% of the time, according to meta-analysis” (Fiske, 2004, p.511). Fiske also argues that the conformity will be greater of lesser depending on the reapplication Asch’s original paradigm, the use of stimuli, and the use of in-group members. Nevertheless, an important issue will vary the levels of conformity: the roles of collectivist cultures. The East and the West cultures will focus on different matters. While East Asians experience social influence focused on conformity, Americans focus on freedom, independence, and uniqueness (Fiske, 2004). Since they are toddlers, East Asians are taught that they need to obey the elder no matter what. Chinese people had rated the values of the people who had much influence on each individual: King, Teacher, Father. As this rating, King was considered as the highest command. Teacher took the second position, and the Father, the least. To enhance the application of the rating, punishment are enforced so violently that if a King ordered anyone to be dead, that person had no choice to follow the order without resistance. Even a Father could kill a disobeyed child without being punished due to the murder. Asch (1940), in Fiske, studies individualist view of groups, rather than group’s social interaction view. He believes that group members maintain independence within the group due to the wish that is to achieve a “correct consensus”. If the group can prove that they are wrong, they will abandon their personal point of view. Asch also mentions about the different influences between congenital and antagonistic group. In congenital group, the conformity is high while in antagonistic group, the level of conformity is, of course, lower.
Let’s look at the two charts.
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In Chart 1, American style: all individuals follow the common rules but still keep their individual’s likes and dislikes. An individual may be deviant to the group if there is no clear explanation. In Chart 2: East Asian style: conformity is the necessary tool to make the group flourish. This style will become an Obedience one. The leader, if wise enough, will lead the group to a magnificent victory and also may create a disaster if going the wrong way. Obedience is the most important behavior that Asian people follow. In the World War 1 and 2, civilian citizens and military persons just blindly obeyed the orders from the military leaders and had no chance to be deviant against that although they knew that the Wars were inhuman. It terminated some people while create some new ones.
Generally, obedience is a special trait that human beings value highly. Obedience is the strictly complying with a command or order. Without obedience, society will not exist. If children do not obey their parents, if student hesitate to follow teacher’s instructions, if employees ignore all the rules and regulations, if soldiers reject their higher ranking officers… there is no any social group survives. As stated previously, to keep the value of obedience, punishment is reinforced. Fiske (2004) states that the punishment the error of the student “originated simultaneously in aggression and obedience research” (Fiske, 2004, p. 509). Freedman and Fraser (1996) in Fiske, study the interaction on unreasonable requests. The results show that the number of people who comply with those trivial requests is larger than the number of people who deny the requests or question about the orders. That is the reason why Hitler with talent can create wars or lead their groups into some indefinite voyage. Fiske (2004) argues that a group has a framework that group identity and harmony within the group must fit in. Social influence shows that it is created from the core social motive of belonging. Group members just follow all requests from the group just because of their intention to belong to the group. In fact, religious systems are the clearest examples of obedience. The followers must show their strict obedience to God or Goddess. In Catholic or Christian churches, obedience to God without question is the must. “St. Thomas Aquinas considers the obligation of obedience as an obvious consequence of the subordination established in the world by natural and positive law”.(Delany, 1911) Christians have no right to question anything at all, even at some incredible events. New Testament had the story of disciple Thomas, when hearing that Lord Jesus had risen from the death, showed his doubt. “If I can put my finger in the holes at his hand,” Thomas said, “I will believe.” A week later, Lord Jesus appeared in a meeting of eleven disciples, called Thomas in and sadly said, “Blessed is the person who does not see but believe”. That meant Christians must obey all things the Church pronounces without questioning. With other religions, based on their own rules, followers may be extreme violent or unbelievable nice. Nevertheless, there is another issue here: the deviance of group member.
Deviance is problematic; it disrupts Social Order. In groups, deviance exists in opposition to those who have power and who want to control it. Deviance can be permanent or temporary. Normally, deviance exists when somebody disagrees with the way the government controls the people or when the leader gives wrong and uncertain explanation of things. “For many years, social psychologists assumed that the primary impetus for social influence was to avoid the uncertainty brought about by one’s apparent disagreement with other.” (Fiske, 2004, p. 510). To have the obedience of the group members, social influence must be either “informative influence” or “normative influence”. If not, there is a development of inequalities in participation in groups where members need to make correct decisions on some issues that have no correct answer. In this case, the opinion of the higher valued member – not necessary to be the leader- will have influence on the group. When the high-valued person(s) or the leader are unable to solve the problem, deviance exists. Indeed, deviance appears in many forms. Some deviance is needed for the society. Without deviance, the world will become a world of robots that only know how to nod their heads or shake the bodies as the leader asks. On the contrary, there are some kinds of negative deviance. “These people are the ones who are starved for attention. These are the people who attempt to convince you how "disturbed" or "depressed" they are. These are the people who claim to be evil and dark.” (Derek Hollemans, 1998). In contrast with Obedience, social influence will spread out the bad examples to others.
Social influence is an abstract opinion but has concrete results. As Fiske (2004) states, “social influence broadly encompasses any changes in belief, attitudes, and behavior that results from interpersonal interaction.” And, “Social influence could be all of social psychology as we defined it”. (Fiske, 2004. p. 508). Within group, social influence has a very strong affect. It can make the group flourish or terminate it. Conformity and obedience usually found in most group, small or big, in the North or in the South, in great America or in small Asian country such as Vietnam, especially in Communist countries where the obedience is a must to the government. Anyone dares to apply deviance in communism regime will be punished incredibly. Volunteered conformity and obedience do not exist. They only appear in Free Country and make the world a better place to live on.
Delany, J. (1911). Obedience In The Catholic Encyclopedia. (2008). New York: Robert Appleton Company.
Derek E. Hollemans. Social Deviance. (1998) APA issue.
Fiske, S. T. Social Beings. (2004). Wiley& Sons, Inc.
Jolanda Jetten. The influence of individualist and collectivist group norms. 2006. John Willey & Son. Ltd.