You’re a Conformist!

There is a certain freedom in conforming. Non-conformity takes a lot of effort, creativity, and energy. To go the way everyone else is going is easy, to think for yourself sometimes you must fight the tide. Conforming relieves you of that pressure to stand out.

I grew up believing that I would become an actor. I studied acting seriously in college and in NYC after graduation. While all of my friends were becoming boring investment bankers (oh, how I wish now that I had become an investment banker then) and accountants, doctors and lawyers, I was busy with art and performance. I was not going to just become another “nobody,” another working stiff like everyone else. Nobody else I knew was going to become an actor and I felt a sense of elitism and pride at my courageous and dubious choice of profession. When I became friends with a certain famous actor and started working in the industry my sense of self-importance grew even greater. While my friends from high school were busy getting their graduate degrees and starting their (boring) families, I was hobnobbing with Hollywood and partying with the power players.

Along with this sense of superiority came other not-so-wholesome beliefs and ideas, many of which are diametrically opposed to Torah values. Marriage was not even a consideration. I was not about to put myself in a situation that would in any way limit my individuality. Marriage was the ultimate act in conformity. That, and getting a “real” job.

Oh how I wish today that the virtues of conformity had been instilled in me from a young age. How I wish I were shown in youth the virtues of a happy marriage and a steady income. Oh to have realized the value of a buck back when our personalities were being molded and to have secured a stable derech from years past.

However, I would be remiss to ignore the gift I have been given, for today I can say that I do appreciate the value of shalom bayis and a steady stream of sustenance. How many more blessings can a BT hope to have than a good wife and a good job? But had it not been for Torah, those blessings would be unrealized, and for that matter so would my children, B”H!

Being a Torah Jew is a battle everyday to resist conformity, to resist doing what the herd is doing, and yet it is also a battle everyday to be a conformist because the halachas and minhagim we have been handed by those who’ve walked before us are imbued with kedusha and when utilized and employed provide the only true way to everlasting immortality…just what every actor wants!

17 comments on “You’re a Conformist!

  1. bps,
    So basically you are telling me that I did not use my brain upon making the decision to become frum. The way you see it is that I heard some kiruv professional espousing some rhetoric about why I should be frum and, brain off, I blindly followed.

    My life was progressing as I believed it should have been pre-tshuva. I became frum because I understood that the torah was a devine manuscript that not only outlined the proper path to take, but put my life, and for that matter, the entire existence of the universe into context. Becoming frum was the single most empowering decision I could ever make. I absolved my responsibility to think for myself to no man!

    Certainly, a man of flesh and blood gave me the information, but it was then up to me to process it. Please be careful not to discredit my ability to choose for myself as it can be somewhat belittling, not to mention presumtuous as well.

    The torah is the best method towards self actualization because it id derived from the source of all perfection, G-d himself. A perfect G-d does not give that which is imperfect. If his desire in creating the world was to bestow good upon his creations, then that good has got to be a perfect good, but the path to achieving this good lies within the bounds of the torah, it’s mitzvos, and it’s halachos. Please see Derech Hashem, by RamChal for a more indepth explanation regarding Hashem and his purpose for creating the world.

    But that’s the story. No one was more open to considering alternative paths to self actualization than I was, but when I came to understand that the torah was from G-d, what more was ther to talk about?

    If you would like to talk more about why I know that the torah is the one true path/method towards self actualization, then I would love to join you in the discussion. However, now, I am late for work and will IY’H speak with you later.

  2. Hi Aryeh Leib. As far as suggesting ways to improve the current situation, to encourage individuality and discourage mental and spiritual complacenceand stagnation, I really don’t know what to do. The current state of affairs in the frum world in this regard seems too hopeless to change in any significant way. In another thread I asked Rabbi Schwartz to tell us more about individuality in the frum world, and I am hopeful he will come up with something good for us.

    In your last post, you say that Torah is the roadmap to self-actualization and that there is no better method. How do you know that is true, that there is no better method? Maybe it is the truth, but maybe it isn’t. Is it enough to hear it from the mouth of a convincing speaker to believe in its veracity?

    There is certain rhetoric used by kiruv professionals to sell their product, that product being frumkeit, and I think that much of what they say is accepted without any real scrutiny because we want it to be true. These feel-good platitudes often pass for truth when much of it is just catchy marketing. An old McDonald’s commercial told us, “You deserve a break today.” Do people really deserve a break today? Or do they just agree because they want a hamburger?

    Most people would rather just agree that it is true rather than investigate further and find out it may not be the case. Likewise with much of what we are fed about frumkeit. We owe it to ourselves to avoid being seduced by these cheap come-ons. We need to look deeper and see for ourselves what the Torah is about.

  3. bps–please suggest some ways to “change things for the better” I’d be interested to hear some of your ideas.

    As for me, I disagree with your contention that frum people are conformist sheep. Perhaps there are plenty of FFBs who don’t question what they have been raised to believe, but maybe that’s because they realize that the way they have been taught to live works for them. What is so wrong with that?

    And as for those FFBs who do what they do because its all they know, maybe they should ask some questions. Who knows, it may even strengthen their avodas Hashem.

    It must be a long time since you became a BT because the secular world that I came from was plagued by conformist thinking. Sure, it manifested itsef in varried ways that appeared to be non-conformity such as fashion, the arts, theology, politics, etc. However, one basic thought connected them all. And that is the rejection or plain old ignorance of the idea that there is a G-d who spoke to a nation of people from Mt. Sinai and provided them with a proscribed method of living.

    That is why Orthodox Jews are the true counter culture, because in a world that says “do your own thing” and “think for yourself” us frummies dare to submit our will to what G-d says is right, and not what the latest pop-thinkers, and artists, and media, and whatever else says is right and wrong.

    Torah is the roadmap towards self actualization. There is no better prescribed method than the one outline by G-d himself. Few men throughout history can say that they truly actualized their potential, however, those that did were unquestionably men of great torah depth and scholarship.

  4. Funny, but everyone here is talking about how they are nonconformists because they lead a frum lifestyle. I also thought that when I was becoming frum years ago. We think our “secular,” non-Orthodox peers are all conformists because they don’t challenge the ideals and values of secular society, but we the frum people are nonconformists because we have chosen a different path. However, do frum people actually think for themselves? Is there any area in their lives where they actually have the opportunity to do something different from the herd? One of the things about becoming frum was my perception that finally I was among people who thought about things and didn’t merely do what everyone else was doing. Well, I was mistaken, because frum people have as much of a sheeplike life as any secular people out there. We can pat ourselves on the back and tell ourselves while me may be sheep, at least we are good sheep, while they are bad sheep, but I think the last thing we need is self-congratulation. Is the purpose of this website to make ourselves feel better about ourselves and the lives we are living or to try to change things for the better? If this website turns out to be nothing more than a group hug than it will be a wasted opportunity to live fuller and more fulfilled lives.

  5. Flexible! Don’t forget flexibility. Artists and performers need to be flexible and fluid, i.e. able to “go with the flow” so to speak. Willing to take chances and to look at things from new, unconventional ways. They have to have an open mind and be willing to take constructive criticism in order to grow as an artist/performer and to hone his or her craft. Flexibility and openess, a willingness to hear something new and the ability to change. Hallmarks of the BT.

  6. “Acting is being real in imaginary circumstances, not being phoney in real circumstances.”

    I find this insight truly profound! I don’t have a well defined approach yet but I think that you’ve provided me with the seeds for understanding one of the most confusing of biblical episodes; Ya’akov “acting” like Eisov to acquire the brachot.

  7. Good post. I know of quite a few BTs that have a performing arts or creative background. Could it be that it takes a “passionate” person to go from secular to frum? Hmmm…

  8. Rachel,
    I first got zapped at the Discovery Seminar in Manhattan in 1996. At the time, I had no idea what it meant to accept that the torah was from Hashem. But at least it put my life, and for that matter, life in general into context. And that was empowering and reassuring. Up until then I really believed that we were all just living on some random rock hurdling through space.

  9. David, I always tell people:
    Acting is being real in imaginary circumstances, not being phoney in real circumstances.

    Your divrei torah rock!! Keep ’em coming!

  10. Welcome aboard Aryeh Leib. So when you told me you liked my dvar torah the last time you were at my shabbos table, you were just acting?!

    Great post, I think it really highlights the different perspectives on conformity as we move through life. As teenagers and young adults, we can’t see anything good in conformity. As mature adults we often see too much good in conformity. Walking that tightrope is so difficult but realizing that we must walk it is the first step.

  11. Aryeh,

    The only union with a higher unemployment rate than the Actor’s Union is the Writer’s Union. (Yes, my chosen profession.) Maybe I can write an unproduced play for you not to get paid to act in.

    I think the main thrust of your article is right on — that, contrary to outside opinion — coming to observance really represents a major and on-going act of non-conformity.

    At the same time, once one is “in the community,” so to speak, there are real pressures to conform sometimes not always in positive ways. That needs to be discussed as well.

  12. Managing a kosher kitchen in a nursing home puts money in my pocket, and getting a degree in social work keeps taking it out. I also work with a Jewish agency that sets up mentors with kids who could benefit from having one.

  13. To conform or not to conform???THAT is the question. Bravo on a bravura performance and a truly immortal post. I’m sure you will garner a best actor prize in Hashem’s award ceremony!

Comments are closed.