21 Nonconformity Quotes to Help You Resist the Crowd

I’ve encountered a number of items, including psychological research studies that show how hard it can be to buck a trend. This includes cases where the test subject is forced to choose between the crowd and his/her “own lying eyes”. I took these to heart, and as a result, I’m often the one who spots the obvious issue in a meeting, which no one else caught. I joke that “perceiving the obvious is my superpower”, but it’s really the willingness to speak up when I perceive it.

Here are 21 quotes on conformity and nonconformity that reveal the struggle to and the importance of remaining free in our own minds.

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  1. “The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” – Rudyard Kipling, 1935 (this quote is often misattributed to Nietzsche)
  2. “Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.” – President John F. Kennedy, 1961 address to the United Nations
  3. “I don’t give a damn what others say. It’s okay to color outside the lines.” – Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970), musician
  4. “It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.” – Ralph Waldo EmersonSelf-Reliance (1841)
  5. “Rebel children, I urge you, fight the turgid slick of conformity with which they seek to smother your glory.” – Russell Brand, My Booky Wook, 2008
  6. “Heresy is another word for freedom of thought.” – Graham Greene (1904-1991), author
  7. “Not all those who wander are lost.” – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring (1954)
  8. “For nonconformity the world whips you with its displeasure.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance (1841)
  9. “The opposite of bravery is not cowardice but conformity.” – Dr. Robert Anthony, The Ultimate Secret to Total Self-Confidence
  10. “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to reform (or pause and reflect).” – Mark Twain, notebook (1904)
  11. “All progress has resulted from people who took unpopular positions.” – Adlai Stevenson, Address at Princeton, 1954
  12. “Go your own way. Question everything. Accept nothing. Accept no dogma, no cant. There are too many people walking around thinking they’re sacred cows, and they’re only half right.” – Rosie DiManno (b. 1956), Canadian journalist
  13. “I think the reward for conformity is that everyone likes you except yourself.” – Rita Mae Brown (b. 1944), author
  14. “Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new.” – Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
  15. “It is the individual only who is timeless. Societies, cultures, and civilizations―past and present―are often incomprehensible to outsiders, but the individual’s hungers, anxieties, dreams, and preoccupations have remained unchanged through the millennia.” – Eric Hoffer (1898-1983), moral philosopher
  16. “Perhaps, if one wishes to remain an individual in the midst of the teeming multitudes, one must make oneself grotesque.” – Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children
  17. “If I decide to be an idiot, then I’ll be an idiot on my own accord.” – Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
  18. “It is very nearly impossible to become an educated person in a country so distrustful of the independent mind.” – James Baldwin (1924-1987), author
  19. “Our wretched species is so made that those who walk on the well-trodden path always throw stones at those who are showing a new road.” – Voltaire (1724-1788)
  20. “Only a very small number of people are truly evil. But a very large number of people are conformists. To prevent evil on a mass scale it’s more important for us to ward against our own instinct to conform with the crowd than it is to worry about anything else.” – Claire Lehman, founding editor of Quillette
  21. “Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken