Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Conformity

One of the deepest and most common human motivations revolves around some version of approval seeking. In our genetic past, without approval from our hunter-and-gatherer groups, survival became impossible. Throughout the ages of our varying cultures and civilizations, gaining and maintaining approval continued as both a prioritized goal and a means to our other desires. Approval became a road toward wealth, power, fame, and better breeding potentials. Unfortunately however, this goal comes with a cost: conformity. Most groups become easily threatened by the diversity, innovation, and uniqueness necessary for creative problem solving and evolution but antithetical to true-believing group orthodoxy.
Gaining approval often relies on deception, arrogance, and greed. We sell our souls, our true selves and deep inspirations for the smiles and respect of those around us. Most of history’s wise teachers and prime movers followed their inner visions rather than society’s norms. Leonardo da Vinci said, “If you are alone, you are all your own; with a companion you are half yourself” and Michelangelo, “I am always alone and speak to no one... I have no friend of any kind and I do not want any.” Most of us would not and would be better not to take anti-conformity that far. Most also though could profit from selling at least a less less of their souls for the currency of acceptance and conformity.

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Quotes (104)

“Stop believing in wise words and reason; you will become your own sage.”

Lao Tzu 老子 604 BCE - via Shan Dao, chapter #19
(Lǎozǐ)
from Tao Te Ching 道德经 Dàodéjīng

“Only those not seduced and controlled by something external will remain unmanipulated, uncorrupted by power.”

Lao Tzu 老子 604 BCE - via Shan Dao, chapter #13
(Lǎozǐ)
from Tao Te Ching 道德经 Dàodéjīng

“what is of value and wisdom of one man seems nonsense to another.”

Buddha गौतम बुद्ध 563 – 483 BCE
(Siddhartha Shakyamuni Gautama)
Awakened Truth

Themes: Conformity

41. Distilled Life

“There is nothing more foolish, nothing more given to outrage than a useless mob.”

Herodotus Ἡρόδοτος c. 484 - 425 BCE
“The Father of History”
from Histories

“The mob is the mother of tyrants.”

Diogenes 412 – 323 BCE
(of Sinope)
from Lives of Philosophers

Themes: Conformity

“To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”

Aristotle Ἀριστοτέλης 382 – 322 BCE

Themes: Conformity

17. True Leaders

“Don’t chase after people’s approval. Don’t depend on your plans. Don’t make decisions; let decisions make themselves.”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 369 – 286 BCE
(Zhuangzi)

Themes: Conformity

20. Unconventional Mind

“I have never wished to cater to the crowd; for what I know they do not approve, and what they approve I do not know.”

Epicurus ɛpɪˈkjɔːrəs 341 – 270 BCE
from On Nature

41. Distilled Life

“Let your eyes see what they see, not what others want you to see.”

Lie Yukou 列圄寇/列禦寇/列子 4th C. BCE via Eva Wong
(Liè Yǔkòu, Liezi)
from Liezi "True Classic of Simplicity and Perfect Emptiness”

Themes: Conformity

“Whoever observes complicated rules of propriety is rotten in his innermost heart.”

Hán Fēi 韓非 280 – 233 BCE

Themes: Conformity

20. Unconventional Mind

“Everything in the world may be imitated except truth, because truth that is imitated is no longer the truth.”

Rabbinic Sages 20 – 200 CE via Rabbi of Kotzk
from Talmud

Themes: Conformity Truth

“I don't need a friend who changes when I change and who nods when I nod; my shadow does that much better.”

Plutarch 46 – 120 CE
(Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus)
from Parallel Lives

“The object in life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.”

Marcus Aurelius 121 – 219 CE
from Meditations Τὰ εἰς ἑαυτόν

41. Distilled Life
18. The Sick Society

“Good snow – flake by flake doesn't fall in any other place.”

Layman Pang 龐居士 740 – 808 CE

“What sort of man at such a time would come to visit the teacher?
As this is not a time for flowers, I find I've come alone.”

Su Shi 苏轼 1037 – 1101 CE
(Dongpo, Su Tungpo)
"pre-eminent personality of 11th century China"

“You say I gave too much; I say too little. What I paid was my social body, my town body, my family body, and all my inherited jewels.”

Meera 1498 – 1546 CE
(Mirabai, Meera Bai )
Inspiring poet, cultural freedom inspiration

“It is proof of a base and low mind for one to wish to think with the masses or majority, merely because the majority is the majority.”

Giordano Bruno 1548 – 1600 CE

Themes: Conformity

38. Fruit Over Flowers

“Few realize how much energy most people expend just trying to be ‘normal.’”

Chén Jìrú 陳繼儒 1558 – 1639 CE via Lin Yutang

Themes: Conformity

“To say that a blind custom of obedience should be a surer obligation than duty taught and understood is to affirm that a blind man my tread surer with a guide than a seeing man by a light.”

Francis Bacon 1561 – 1626 CE
from Advancement of Learning, 1605

“affect ignorance... In everything the taste of the many carries the day... follow it in the hope of leading it to higher things.”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE via Joseph Jacobs, chapter #120
from Art of Worldly Wisdom

Themes: Conformity

“Everyone is as others wish them to be... win their hearts and so their tongues.”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE via Joseph Jacobs, chapter #111
from Art of Worldly Wisdom

Themes: Conformity

“Nothing is thoroughly approved but mediocrity. The majority has established this, and it fixes its fans on whatever gets beyond it either way.”

Blaise Pascal 1623 – 1662 CE
from Pensée

Themes: Conformity

“Be not astonished at new ideas; for it is well known to you that a thing does not therefore cease to be true because it is not accepted by many.”

Baruch Spinoza 1632 – 1677 CE

Themes: Conformity Truth

18. The Sick Society

“Nothing indeed can be a stronger presumption of falsehood than the approbation of the multitude.”

David Hume 1711 – 1776 CE via letter to Adam Smith
"One of the most important philosophers"

Themes: Lies Conformity

“I am not made like any of those I have seen. I venture to believe that I am not made like any of those who are in existence. If I am not better, at least I am different.”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1712 – 1778 CE

“I begin to grow heartily tired of the etiquette and nonsense so fashionable in this city.”

George Mason 1725 – 1792 CE

Themes: Conformity

“There is nothing more odious than the majority. It consists of a few powerful men who lead the way; of accommodating rascals and submissive weaklings; and of a mass of men who trot after them without in the least knowing their own minds.”

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 1749 – 1832 CE

“All education is despotism… Go there; do that; read; write; rise; lie down… teachers, politics and modes of government poison our minds before we can resist, or so much as suspect their malignity. They deprive us of our vitality”

William Godwin 1756 – 1836 CE
Provocative and influential social, political, and literary critic
from Enquiry Concerning Political Justice

“When we come to see how superficial and futile are most people’s thoughts, how narrow their ideas, how mean their sentiments, how perverse their opinions; we will understand that to lay great value upon what other people say is to pay them too much honor.”

Arthur Schopenhauer 1788 – 1860 CE via T. Bailey Saunders
from Wisdom of Life

Themes: Conformity

“We forfeit three-fourths of ourselves in order to be like other people.”

Arthur Schopenhauer 1788 – 1860 CE

18. The Sick Society

“Envy is ignorance, imitation is Suicide.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803 – 1882 CE

25. The Mother of All Things

“Men, it has been well said, think in herds but it will be seen that they go mad in herds. They only recover their senses slowly, one by one.”

Charles Mackay 1814 – 1889 CE
from Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

26. The Still Rule the Restless

“Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new… The head monkey in Paris puts on a traveler’s cap, and all the monkeys in America do the same.”

Henry David Thoreau 1817 – 1862 CE
Father of environmentalism and America's first yogi
from Walden or Life in the Woods

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation”

Herman Melville 1819 – 1891 CE

“Almost all capable people are terribly afraid of being ridiculous, and are miserable because of it.”

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky Фёдор Миха́йлович Достое́вский 1821 – 1881 CE
from Brothers Karamatzov

Themes: Conformity Fear

“Since the beginning of time, the craving for community of worship remains as the main cause of our suffering. For that we’ve killed and tortured each other, said ‘Put away your gods and worship ours or we will kill you and your gods.’”

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky Фёдор Миха́йлович Достое́вский 1821 – 1881 CE
from Brothers Karamatzov

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to reform… Out of all the things I have lost, I miss my mind the most.”

Mark Twain 1835 – 1910 CE
(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)

41. Distilled Life

“If a million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.”

Anatole France 1844 – 1924 CE
(Jacques Anatole Thibault)

Themes: Conformity

38. Fruit Over Flowers

“One repays a teacher badly if one always remains nothing but a pupil.”

Friedrich Nietzsche 1844 – 1900 CE
from Thus Spoke Zarathustra

38. Fruit Over Flowers

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”

Oscar Wilde 1854 – 1900 CE

“Perhaps our national ambition to standardize ourselves has behind it the notion that democracy means standardization. But standardization is the surest way to destroy the initiative, to de-numb the creative impulse above all else essential to the vitality and growth of democratic ideals.”

Ida Tarbell 1857 – 1944 CE

“Each step of the journey is made by following the heart instead of following the crowd and by choosing knowledge over the veils of ignorance.”

Henri-Louis Bergson 1859 – 1941 CE

Themes: Conformity

18. The Sick Society

“He who saith ‘thou shalt’ to me is my mortal foe.”

Arthur Desmond 1859 – 1929 CE
from Might Is Right

Themes: Conformity

“Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next.”

Dean Inge 1860 – 1954 CE
Christian mystic and philosopher

Themes: Conformity

“Most men's conscience, habits, and opinions are borrowed from convention and gather continually comforting assurances from the same social consensus that originally suggested them.”

Santayana, George 1863 – 1952 CE
(Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás)
Powerfully influential, true-to-himself philosopher/poet

Themes: Conformity

“Distrustful of that popular eye
Whether it be bold or sly”

W.B. (William Butler) Yeats 1865 – 1939 CE via "The Apparitions"

“Most men die at twenty or thirty; thereafter they are only reflections of themselves: for the rest of their lives they are aping themselves, repeating from day to day more and more mechanically and affectedly what they said and did and thought and loved when they were alive.”

Romain Rolland 1866 – 1944 CE
“The moral consciousness of Europe”

“A fashionable milieu is one in which everybody's opinion is made up of the opinion of all the others. Has everybody a different opinion? Then it is a literary milieu.”

Marcel Proust 1871 – 1922 CE
Apostle of Ordinary Mind
from In Search of Lost Time

“Collective fear stimulates herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd.”

Bertrand Russell 1872 – 1970 CE
“20th century Voltaire”
from Unpopular Essays

Themes: Conformity

“so long as men are not trained to withhold judgement in the absence of evidence, they will be led astray by cocksure prophets, and it is likely that their leaders will be either ignorant fanatics or dishonest charlatans.”

Bertrand Russell 1872 – 1970 CE
“20th century Voltaire”
from Unpopular Essays

26. The Still Rule the Restless

“When a civilization becomes so standardized that the individual can no longer make an imprint on it, then that civilization is dying. The 'mass mind' has taken over and another set of national glories is heading for history's scrap heap.”

Elie Faure 1873 – 1937 CE
French art historian and essayist

“For what I always hated and detested and cursed above all things was this contentment, this healthiness and comfort, this carefully preserved optimism of the middle classes, this fat and prosperous brood of mediocrity.”

Hermann Hesse 1877 – 1962 CE

Themes: Conformity

24. Unnecessary Baggage

“The eyes of others our prisons; their thoughts our cages.”

Virginia Woolf 1882 – 1941 CE

Themes: Conformity

“The third-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking with the majority. The second-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking with the minority. The first-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking.”

A.A. Milne 1882 – 1956 CE
(Alan Alexander Milne)
from War With Honour

Themes: Reason Conformity

67. Three Treasures

“'Oh Tigger, where are your manners?' 'I don’t know, but I bet they’re having more fun than I am.'”

A.A. Milne 1882 – 1956 CE
(Alan Alexander Milne)
from Winnie the Pooh

Themes: Conformity

24. Unnecessary Baggage

“You wouldn't worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.”

Eleanor Roosevelt 1884 – 1962 CE

Themes: Conformity

17. True Leaders

“The Inquisition left its evil mark on European society, made torture a recognized part of legal procedure, and drove men back from the adventure of reason into a fearful and stagnant conformity.”

Will Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
Philosophy apostle and popularizer of history's lessons
from Age of Faith

Themes: Evil Conformity

“Real education must ultimately be limited to men who insist on knowing. The rest is mere sheep herding.”

Ezra Pound 1885 – 1972 CE

“One should be either sad or joyful. Contentment is a warm sty for eaters and sleepers.”

Eugene O'Neill 1888 – 1953 CE

Themes: Conformity

“People imagined that it was out of date of follow their own moral sense, that they must all sing in chorus, and live by other people's notions, notions that were crammed down everybody's throat.”

Boris Pasternak Бори́с Леони́дович Пастерна́к 1890 – 1960 CE
Russia's greatest poet
from Doctor Zhivago (1957)

“Comedy is the last refuge of the nonconformist mind.”

Gilbert Seldes 1893 – 1970 CE
Maker of the first full-length documentary film

“Ninety-six identical twins working ninety-six identical machines!”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE

Themes: Conformity

18. The Sick Society

“The really hopeless victims of mental illness are to be found among those who appear to be most normal. Many of them are normal because they are so well adjusted to our mode of existence, because their human voice has been silenced so early in their lives.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE

Themes: Conformity

38. Fruit Over Flowers

“Is it a mad society or a sane one? And even if it's pretty sane, is it right that anybody should be completely adjusted to it?”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE

Themes: Conformity

67. Three Treasures

“The right way is not always the popular and easy way. Standing for right when it is unpopular is a true test of moral character.”

Margaret Chase Smith 1897 – 1995 CE

Themes: Virtue Conformity

“Most people are not even aware of their need to conform. They live under the illusion that they follow their own ideas and inclinations, that they are individualists, that they have arrived at their opinion as the result of their own thinking - and that it just happens that their ideas are the same as this of the majority.”

Eric Fromm 1900 – 1980 CE
from Art of Loving

67. Three Treasures

“If other people do not understand our behavior—so what? Their request that we must only do what they understand is an attempt to dictate to us… know that a free person owes an explanation only to himself—to his reason and his conscience.”

Eric Fromm 1900 – 1980 CE
from The Sane Society

Themes: Conformity

21. Following Empty Heart

“Life's more important than a living. So many people who make a living are making death, not life. Don't ever join them. They're the gravediggers of our civilization - The safe men. The compromisers. The moneymakers.”

James Hilton 1900 – 1954 CE
from Lost Horizon

72. Helpful Fear

“Human history began with an act of disobedience, and it is not unlikely that it will be terminated by an act of obedience.”

Eric Fromm 1900 – 1980 CE

“Just as modern mass production requires the standardization of commodities, so the social process requires standardization of man, and this standardization is called equality.”

Eric Fromm 1900 – 1980 CE

2. The Wordless Teachings
72. Helpful Fear

“If people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, it doesn't matter… We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain free within ourselves.”

Langston Hughes 1901 – 1967 CE
Pioneering elevator of Black culture

“We must learn to be different…If Wakan Tanka likes the plants, the animals, even little mice and bugs to do this, how much more will he abhor people being alike, doing the same thing, getting up at the same time, putting on the same kind of store-bought clothes, working in the same office at the same job with their eyes on the same clock and, worst of all, thinking alike all the time.”

John Fire Lame Deer 1903 – 1976 CE via Richard Erdoes
from Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions

18. The Sick Society

“The more people there are who agree, the more the point they agree upon becomes of great significance and importance. Contrary views are taken to be wrong views, mistaken perceptions.”

Gendün Chöphel དགེ་འདུན་ཆོས་འཕེལ། 1903 – 1951 CE

Themes: Conformity

“A people that elect corrupt politicians, imposters, thieves and traitors are not victims, but accomplices.”

George Orwell 1903 – 1950 CE
English, poet, humanist, apostle of doubt, and powerful political influence

Themes: Conformity

“Cultivate your own spirit, don's go seeking for something outside of yourself.”

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi 1904 – 1971 CE via Trudy Dixon
from Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

Themes: Conformity

“What T. S. Elliot meant in his poem, The Waste Land... a land where everybody is living an inauthentic life, doing as other people do, doing as you're told, with not courage for your own life. That is the wasteland.”

Joseph Campbell 1904 – 1987 CE
Great translator of ancient myth into modern symbols
from Power of Myth

Themes: Conformity

“The world is full of people who have stopped listening to themselves or have listened only to their neighbors to learn what they ought to do, how to behave, and what the values are that they should be living for.”

Joseph Campbell 1904 – 1987 CE
Great translator of ancient myth into modern symbols
from Power of Myth

Themes: Conformity

“The moment you meet a teacher, you should leave the teacher, and you should be independent.”

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi 1904 – 1971 CE

8. Like Water
19. All Methods Become Obstacles

“The most damaging phrase in our language: `It's always been done that way.'”

Grace Hopper 1906 – 1992 CE
(Grace Brewster Murray Hopper )

Themes: Conformity

“Just because this has always been this way, doesn't mean that it is the best or right way of life, the best or right religion, political or economic value, morality”

Saul Alinsky 1909 – 1972 CE

Themes: Conformity

“Few realize how much energy most people expend just trying to be ‘normal.’”

Albert Camus 1913 – 1960 CE via Shan Dao

Themes: Conformity

“‘official psychotherapy’ lacks integrity and becomes the obedient tool of armies, bureaucracies, churches, corporations, and all agencies that require individual brainwashing… the therapist who is really interested in helping the individual is forced into social criticism.”

Alan Watts 1915 – 1973 CE
from Psychotherapy East and West

“Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.”

John Kennedy 1917 – 1963 CE
Modern America's most popular president

Themes: Conformity

“I kept thinking that the imitators never knew and don’t know how miserable these men were.”

Carolyn Cassady 1923 – 2013 CE

Themes: Conformity

“The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.”

Warren Bennis 1925 – 2014 CE
Authentic Leadership pioneering thought leader

Themes: Conformity

“The group, whether We or You or Them… has no consciousness of its own. Yet we may shed our own blood and the blood of others for this bloodless presence.”

R. D. Laing 1927 – 1989 CE
from Politics of Experience

Themes: Conformity

“Imitation is a real evil that has to be broken before real teaching can begin… Schools teach you to imitate. If you don’t imitate what the teacher wants you get a bad grade… in college, you are supposed to imitate the teacher in such a way as to convince the teacher you were not imitating”

Robert M. Pirsig 1928 – 2017 CE
from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

“I have a pathetic tendency to unerringly choose the easier of two evils. Like a cow catching sight of the trough; I gallop without premeditation… I go along with the exterior motions because it is safer”

Philip K. Dick 1928 – 1982 CE
Legendary consciousness provocateur
from Man in the High Castle,

Themes: Conformity

“The whole educational and professional training system is a very elaborate filter, which just weeds out people who are too independent, and who think for themselves… because they're dysfunctional to the institutions.”

Noam Chomsky 1928 CE –

41. Distilled Life

“The average man is a conformist, accepting miseries and disasters with the stoicism of a cow standing in the rain.”

Colin Wilson 1931 – 2013 CE

Themes: Conformity

“Each time we don't say what we wanna say, we're dying.”

Yoko Ono 小野 洋子 1933 CE –
(“Ocean Child”)

Themes: Conformity

“Wanting approval and appreciation easily becomes a strong chain in the herd instinct dynamic, something noticeably diminished in the lives of history-changing innovators.”

Shan Dao 山道 1933 CE –

19. All Methods Become Obstacles

“Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.”

George Carlin 1937 – 2008 CE
One of the most influential social commentators of his time

Themes: Conformity

“You don't have to know how to do it... There is no help coming from anywhere at all. You have to make your own individual journey that is purely based on you.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE
from Orderly Chaos — The Mandala Principle

“The search for an external protector has met with no success.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE via Nalanda Translation Committee
from Sadhana of Mahamudra

Themes: Conformity

38. Fruit Over Flowers

“There's room at the top they are telling you still, but first you must learn how to smile as you kill, if you want to be like the folks on the hill… A working class hero is something to be.”

John Lennon 1940 – 1980 CE

Themes: Conformity

9. Know When to Stop

“But I mean no harm, nor put fault on anyone that lives in a vault. But it's alright, Ma, if I can't please him.”

Bob Dylan 1941 CE –
from Bringing it all Back Home

Themes: Conformity

72. Helpful Fear

“I try my best to be just like I am but everybody wants you to be just like them... I ain't gonna work on Maggie's farm no more

Bob Dylan 1941 CE – via Maggie's Farm
from Bringing it all Back Home

“But I mean no harm, nor put fault
On anyone that lives in a vault
But it's alright, Ma, if I can't please him.”

Bob Dylan 1941 CE –

Themes: Conformity

67. Three Treasures

“One of the qualities I most treasure in Chuang Tzu is his sense of the spontaneous, the uncapturable. This makes it easy to follow in his footsteps. Since there are no footsteps, all you an follow is what he himself followed: the Tao.”

Stephen Mitchell 1943 CE –
from Second Book of Tao

Themes: Conformity

56. One with the Dust

“From Ushikawa’s perspective, they were irretrievably shallow. To him, their minds were dull, their vision narrow and devoid of imagination, and all they cared about was what other people thought… completely lacking in… any degree of wisdom.”

Haruki Murakami 1949 CE –

44. Fame and Fortune

“We live behind bars of responsibility and conformity.”

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche རྫོང་གསར་ འཇམ་དབྱངས་ མཁྱེན་བརྩེ་ རིན་པོ་ཆེ། 1961 CE –
(Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche)
"Activity" incarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo
from What Makes You Not a Buddhist

Themes: Conformity

72. Helpful Fear

“I thought you would’ve learned to question the status quo a little better by now.”

N. K. Jemisin 1972 CE –
from Broken Earth

Themes: Conformity

“They all look different, but they have the same non-presence within”

N. K. Jemisin 1972 CE –
from Broken Earth

Themes: Conformity

Sources

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