Nonconformity in an Ever-Changing Present

The first time that the term “nonconformity” came into use was in the early 1800’s along with the birth of religious freedoms throughout the world. Since then in more modern times, this term has broadened to represent the preservation of individuality, perseverance in pressuring social situations, etc. In fact, according to Merriam Webster, nonconformity is defined as “refusal to conform to an established or conventional creed, rule, or practice” as a second definition to its original meaning of “failure or refusal to conform to an established church.” Though, it is unclear how this definition had risen to popularity.


Perhaps, this new definition of nonconformity risen to popularity with Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay on “self-reliance” which was first published in 1841 and is considered Emerson’s most influential and popular work. In this essay, As Ephrat Livni emphasizes in her article on the essay, “ His central point [in “self-reliance”] is that we should not ignore those inner whispers, which may be barely audible under the din of outside influences and self-doubt. They may contain sparks of genius” (par. 2). Considering the modern definition of nonconformity is ultimately concerned with individuality and the preservation of it, it is highly possible that Emerson’s essay was the start of the current movement concerning a person’s right to individuality and expression of identity.


So, what may the future of nonconformity look like? New York Times writer David Brooks may have some answers for us moving forward. In his article “The Future of Nonconformity,” which is classified as an opinion piece on the website, Brooks emphasizes how exclusionary practice has been ever-present in the American intellectual life, including the concept of nonconformity which when used in politics, excludes people of different beliefs and walks of life. Further in his article, Brooks states “Happily, there’s a growing rebellion against groupthink and exclusion,” and ultimately, he has hopes of seeing this become the nature of the nonconformist cultural practice, because the political tensions between the parties, cancel culture, and ultimately any exclusionary practices lead to little progression in his eyes.


So, how do we move forward? As previously discussed in our article “Is Free Speech Still Free?” by Matthew Lies, the best way forward may be exercising our voices, and being respectful and considerate of those who do the same. It is the best way to move forward and improve, just remember to be true to yourself, and be willing to learn as well.