I resist conformity on a daily basis and have been doing so since I was very young. In almost all cases, I believe that my resistance is justified.
There are instances, however, when I question this propensity.
When I was in high school, the anti-hazing laws which now fill the books had yet to be enacted, and as a result, the relationship between freshmen and seniors at my school was contentious at best. Being a member of our marching band starting in 7th grade (our school was a junior/senior high school) didn’t help. Unlike many of my classmates, I became a known entity to the seniors well before my freshman year.
For reasons that I don’t fully understand, I also chose to make the hazing rituals (many of which were quite benign) my cause celeb. Rather than suffering for a couple weeks prior to the freshman/senior dance, I decided to take a stand and fight.
In retrospect, it was a stupid decision.
In addition to compelling freshman to clear the seniors’ trays at lunch time (which I refused), certain freshman were forced to wear signs around their necks throughout the day with messages like:
This freshman sucks.
Freshmen are wimps.
Having gained a certain antagonistic reputation during my first two years in the marching band’s drum corps, the seniors were ready for me when I entered my freshmen year, armed with a multitude of signs that I would tear up and throw away at my earliest opportunity. One day they stuck a box on me, with cut outs for my head and arms, covering me shoulders to knees with anti-freshmen graffiti.
I fought it tooth and nail.
Band camp, a week spent during the summer on a local college campus or military base, was always an interesting time for me during my first three years in the organization. In addition to the annual shaving cream fight, seniors routinely doughboy’d freshmen and junior high band members, sticking them in a shower, turning the water on, and pouring a doughy batter over them that would stick to their hair like honey. They also removed the fire extinguishers from the dorms and would turn the hallway to the underclassmen’s rooms into a high-stakes gauntlet. Freshmen would run for their lives down the hall while seniors blasted them with frozen carbon dioxide.
If a freshman went along with the hazing, the torment would end in a month and life would eventually return to normal. For someone as stupid as me who chose to defy the seniors’ wishes, the hazing persisted throughout the year, often leading to violence. My scalp was split open more than once by a senior who had turned his class ring around and struck me on the top of the head with it. I went home donning black eyes on at least two occasions, and once, following a track and field practice, I was removed from the school in an ambulance after a senior had broken two of my ribs and I was unable to catch my breath.
The rib breaking incident occurred after battling against a senior to avoid being bowled, a process by which a freshman’s head was placed in a urinal or toilet and then flushed.
I believe that the kids refer to this process as a swirly today.
I’m proud to report that despite the suffering that I endured, I was never bowled.
My battles with the seniors eventually centered upon a guy named Dan, who had treated me especially harshly during band camp. In an effort to strike back, I had flyers prepared that I passed out at the front of the school one morning that read:
Dan is a wimp.
I also had a buttons made that read Seniors are wimps. I still have some today.
This did not go over well. I suffered many a beating throughout my freshman year and was denied entry to the freshman/senior Get Acquainted Dance. My mother was called into school a day before the dance and informed that I was being suspended for “inciting riot upon myself.” Despite my suspension, I still attempted to gain entry to the dance, only to be stopped at the door. The seniors had a number of things planned for me, including placing me in a trashcan and declaring me King of the Can.
My friend, Peter, was placed in the can instead.
Again, these decisions may seem amusing now, but they were stupid at the time. Resisting conformity is almost always the right thing to do in a world that lacks logic and reason and seems bent on imposing tradition at every turn.
But when the odds are stacked heavily against you, the period of required conformity is relatively brief, the long term implications are limited and you prefer to leave school on your own two feet rather than in the back of an ambulance, perhaps conformity ain’t so bad.