To conform or not conform: that is the question . . .

Wayne Weedon
Food for Thought

As a child, adults would advise me to, “Do as I say, not as I do.” I was frequently told not to smoke, which, in the 1950s, literally, everyone I knew did. To me, smoking cigarettes and adulthood went together. At fifteen, I was smoking regularly, and by twenty, I was consuming two packs of Player’s Plain daily. 

In 1968, Radio Southern Manitoba was broadcasting a syndicated radio program, Our Changing World, written and narrated by Earl Nightingale, whose recording, The Strangest Secret, in the early 1950s, sold over a million copies. Back then, society was moving towards The Age of Reason, a philosophy of individualism, reasoning, and independence. By the late 1960s, Earl Nightingale’s popularity was waning. Society was changing directions and heading towards an age of conforming.

Many veterans returning from the Second World War, who previously never got an education, were taking classes. At that time, standard education emphasised logical, scientific, thinking, along with independence of individuals. Many of these students were influenced by Earl Nightingale and others like him such as Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone, and Andrew Carnegie who praised non-conformists. 

By the late 1950s, standard education was moving away from individualism and towards conforming to the “norm”. Earl Nightingale stated it took little effort for one to conform and, he observed, for most people, rebelling meant joining another group and conforming to that group. Nightingale professed that we all had the power within ourselves to control our own mind and body, and if we did not take control of ourselves, someone else would, and we would become no more than a volunteer slave. 

I started questioning the “norm” and at age twenty I quit smoking. As Dr. Eric Berne predicted, and like many, many, thousands before me, I had no withdrawal symptoms. Dr. Berne, was a Canadian psychiatrist living in California. His revolutionary books were selling in the millions. Today, the establishment is discrediting Dr. Berne, declaring that his ideas are non-conformist. In his book, Games People Play, Dr. Berne emphatically states there is no such thing as an alcoholic or any other form of addiction. He gives examples, as well as evidence, to prove his statements. 

When I quit smoking, I was mocked; but today smoking tobacco is no longer acceptable. That’s the trouble with conforming, one must stay in touch with what “Everybody” is doing. What one society considers rational, another may consider irrational. When “Everybody” is doing something, we accept it as being good and normal. But “Everybody” is not everybody in the world. 

Earl Nightingale explained what The Strangest Secret was. Thousands of books in libraries all over the world explain how to take charge of one’s own life, how to set goals and steadfastly work towards these goals to accomplish whatever one desires. This idea is a secret to most people, because they never bother to look for and read these books. 

Most people never succeed because they never think about what they are doing and where they are going. People in power, however, prefer that we conform. It is difficult to control people individually, but easy to steer a herd of conformists, a flock of sheep. Army generals have always known this. They do not want foot-soldiers who think. 

To be happy and successful, one has to move away from the herd, be an individual, and set one’s own course in life. Education must be ongoing. Habits of reading, studying, and continual learning have to be developed.

Most people prefer to watch a circus, a football game, or a sitcom, rather than reading a book. If anyone does read, they usually prefer to read a comic book, a detective novel, or a Harlequin Romance, but not an educational book. In every society, modern and historical, most of what people commonly believe to be true may be shown to be false; and most of what they believe to be false, may be shown to be true. 

Is our society different? What are our common beliefs? Will they, like our attitude towards smoking, change with time? What are your beliefs? Have you ever questioned them? Is there evidence they may be false?

Wayne Weedon is an Indigenous Manitoba writer of novels and short stories. To sample his wonderful work go to