WEIRD People Don't Value Conformity

WEIRD People Don’t Value Conformity

When we teach kids in Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) countries, we don’t teach them in the same way that people in other countries, or in other times, teach and have taught their kids. In WEIRD societies, we are less focused on conformity and tradition and more focused on helping kids express their own uniqueness and work through challenges and problems in their own way. A fun example of this is the parenting style of the Turtle Crush in the movie Finding Nemo. Crush’s son splashes out of a fast moving current of water, scaring the titular character’s father, but not worrying Crush. The turtle is patient and waits to see if his son can figure out how to get back into the current on his own and he praises his son when he makes it back. Rather than chastising his son for falling out of the current and giving him specific instructions and directions for remaining in the current and getting back to the current, he encourages his son to find his own path and figure things out on his own.
The movie presents this style of parenting as optimal and praiseworthy, but it likely doesn’t resonate in every part of the world, and certainly wouldn’t resonate for humans from the past. For much of human history people have lived in relatively small tribal groups where elders made decisions that younger people were expected to follow. Obedience to authority was much more important in these tribal groups. This is a key idea that Joseph Henrich writes about in his book The WEIRDest People in the World:
“The willingness of WEIRD people to ignore others’ opinions, preferences, views, and requests extends well beyond peers to include elders, grandfathers, and traditional authorities. … WEIRD people don’t value conformity or see obedience as a virtue that needs to be instilled in children. They also don’t venerate either traditions or ancient sages as much as most other societies have, and elders simply don’t carry the same weight that they do in many other places.”
In the United States, when we think about ourselves relative to other countries, and when we think about religious groups within the United States relative to non-religious groups or elderly people relative to younger people, we should remember that values around conformity, tradition, and respect for authority matter a lot. Much of the difference and friction we see in the world today, I believe, has to do with the destruction of traditions and the near iconoclasm that WEIRD societies and people are not afraid to inflict on things that are old. We encourage kids to find their own way, be their own person, and to solve problems themselves. Consequentially, this has meant that younger people today in WEIRD countries are willing to throw out traditional ideas around marriage, gender, and elderly authority. We don’t value conformity, but instead value individual expression and uniqueness, and that is a very weird WEIRD way to view the world.