Let me tell you how (and why) I landed my first job in the computer industry. I applied for an open position, sent in my resume, endured two or three interviews, and finally attended one last meeting.
In that meeting, my soon-to-be boss said, “I wanted to tell you personally that I have chosen you for the position, but I also want to tell you why I did.” He explained,
- “I didn’t choose you because of your education” (I had studied 17th Century European Intellectual History, not exactly Computer Science);
- “And I didn’t choose you because your grades were better” (when I say I “studied history” I don’t mean to imply I studied real hard);
- “And I didn’t choose you because of your great business experience” (three years of overseas mission work didn’t qualify as a practical MBA).
(His care for my self-esteem was underwhelming; I began to wonder if the job was really mine.)
He continued, “I chose you because you answered my questions differently than I would have. I didn’t agree with your every answer, but your answers gave me an outlook I hadn’t considered. I don’t need more people who think like me—I already think like me—I need people who offer different perspectives.” He concluded,
“The curse of the computer industry is conformity; never lose your non-conformity.”
Iron sharpens iron
We all need different perspectives. We may not like them, but we need them.
Before I post a blog, I ask a few people for their input. My mom often responds, “Sam this is the most brilliant article you’ve ever written.” I like that. It makes me feel good. (And my self-esteem is still recovering from the job interview thirty-five years ago.)
And my son Jonathan often responds, “Dad, this might be the worst article you’ve ever written. It’s preachy; you used the word ‘grace’ twenty-seven times; you forgot to use any humor; and it isn’t your voice.” I feel bad, a bit sad, and perhaps a little mad.”
And I love it. Because his viewpoint dramatically improves my writing.
He’s giving me eyes to see myself from the outside. His perceptions balance my perspective. He’s not conforming to me, he’s non-conforming to me; and so he’s transforming me.
Iron sharpens iron; marshmallows ooze goo (and make you fat). We need more iron in our diet.
But it goes against the grain
The world trains us to conform, imitate, replicate, duplicate, and fit in. From eye-glass fashions to Applebees in every mall, the compelling pressure is to copy. And like lemmings we follow.
But success is born out of distinction. It’s the differences that make the difference. Hugely popular Apple Corporation flourished because they offered something new; they weren’t your daddy’s IBM. Transformation arises out of departure from the everyday norm.
That boss of mine was unusual … and unusually wise (except, perhaps, in hiring me). He reveled in the challenge of a different viewpoint. Most bosses fear disagreement. They are so insecure that our slightest question sends them howling. But in uniformity we lose our soul.
God made unique hands, feet, and eyes. He doesn’t need fifty-seven thousand more big toes.
Where it’s needed most
Nowhere is this curse of conformity more obvious than in modern, western Christianity.
The world around us is in trouble: it is the uncommon marriage that lasts thirty years, political correctness campaigns against original thought, and people are escaping their lives through media, Facebook, alcohol, pornography, and isolation.
People need different answers than the world offers—different answers. C. S. Lewis said,
Our business is to present that which is timeless (the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow) in the unique language of our own age. Bad preachers do the opposite: they take the ideas of our own age and dress them in the traditional language of Christianity.
I don’t understand us Christians. We believe—or think we believe—that Christianity offers something completely unique: adoption into the heavenly family. But then we run after popular trends and say to the world, “Me too. Please like me. I can be cool too.”
It’s everywhere in modern Christianity. We embrace the world’s answers to psychological healing, divorce, emotions, shame, sexuality, money, music, media, isolation, and group-think.
We adopt the world’s answer, dress them in clerical robes, and say, “Me too.” But the world looks at us and responds, “Who cares! We thought this way without your help. We don’t need Christianity’s approval; of what help are you?” We’ve conformed and not contributed.
Mark Twain said, “It is our nature to conform; it is a force which only few can successfully resist. Why do we conform? The inborn requirement of approval.” We want too much to be liked. So we fail.
What can we do?
Michael Crichton wrote, “In the information society, nobody thinks. We expected to banish paper, but we actually banished thought.” Believers and non-believers listen to the same music, watch the same TV shows, read the same Facebook stories. And accept the same answers.
I’m sick of dumbing down Christianity. It’s time to offer again Christianity’s unique answers.
Let’s never lose our holy non-conformity.