Photo by Thomas Leuthard on Flickr

The Power of Nonconformity and Paving Your Own Path

Albert Einstein, Lucy Stone, Carl Jung, Rick Doblin, and Mahatma Gandhi all shared a prominent quality throughout their lives. They were renegades of the systems the masses accepted as normal; they refused to accept the status quo; they questioned the structures and systems they were presented with; they were nonconformists of their times.

Each of these individuals had a major influence on human progress, whether it be through science, civil rights, psychology, or activism. These individuals led the way in reshaping and inspiring entire systems, structures, ideas, and movements.

Albert Einstein

Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.” -Albert Einstein

Einstein had a disdain for the education system and the way subjects were taught as he delved into philosophical works entirely on his own terms. Often misunderstood for his independence and nonconformity, Einstein considered himself “a pariah” among other academics.

He worked as a patent clerk for 7 years as he delved into theoretical physics on his own. Einstein went on to develop the theory of special relativity, reshaping the fundamental perceptions of space and time. At the age of 26, he published 4 groundbreaking papers that brought him immediate notice in the world of academia.

Scientists were at first skeptical of Einstein’s work as it introduced new ideas contradictory to their previous scientific paradigm, but his work was soon after recognized as a scientific breakthrough. He continued with his groundbreaking theories throughout his entire life. Einstein’s nonconformity led him into becoming the most well-known theoretical physicist of all time.

Lucy Stone

“Now all we need is to continue to speak the truth fearlessly, and we shall add to our number those who will turn the scale to the side of equal and full justice in all things.” -Lucy Stone

Lucy Stone was a leading activist pioneering the women’s rights movements dated back to the 1800s. Imagine the ridicule she had to have faced standing up to the dominance of the patriarchy in the 1800s. Lucy Stone spent her life serving the cause, co-founding the American Equal Rights Association.

She went on to become an outspoken voice for both the anti-slavery and women’s rights movements. She didn’t live to see the significance of her impact on women’s rights as she died 30 years before women were granted the right to vote. Her actions of nonconformity created great potential for change as she paved a path for the women’s rights movement to gain traction.

Carl Jung

“I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.” -Carl Jung

Carl Jung was a student of Freud and eventually came to disagreements with Freud on the fundamentals of the unconscious. Freud saw the unconscious solely consisting of repressed memories, but Jung argued this theory of the unconscious was incomplete and unnecessarily negative. This is where Jung parted ways with Freud, a bold move, going on to develop his own theories of the unconscious. His work eventually evolved into its own branch of psychology known as analytical psychology. Many psychoanalysts now see Freud’s work as a subset of Jung’s work.

Jung was and still is very misunderstood as his work is difficult to comprehend and is still often misinterpreted. His work is often ridiculed and overlooked in conventional education, but his theories have subsisted in the background for individuals to delve into on their own. Intellectuals such as Jordan Peterson Ph.D. and Stanislov Grof M.D, Ph.D. have been deeply influenced by his work, as they incorporate it into the fundamentals of their psychology practices.

Carl Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious is becoming less and less obscure as quantum mechanics continues to progress to show consciousness as fundamental to reality; although, these findings in quantum mechanics are still currently overlooked since they fall outside the scope of the prominent scientific paradigm. Jung’s nonconformity to traditional academia laid the groundwork for the fundamentals of his findings and evolved into its own branch of psychology.

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.

“Psychedelics are not a substitute for faith. They are a door to authentic faith, born of encountering directly the sacred dimension of everyday experience. This is not the only gate to that discovery, but it is the most ancient and universal, and potentially the most accessible to the majority of the human race.” -Rick Doblin

In his college years, Rick Doblin recognized the potential therapeutic use of psychedelics in psychotherapy referring to the vast research throughout the 1950s and 1960s. In the 1970s the US government criminalized all use of psychedelics, shutting down all the psychedelic research and potential medicinal use cases.

Rick Doblin decided to dedicate his life to changing the laws and becoming a legal Psychedelic Psychotherapist as he founded the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) in 1986. MAPS has continued the research for the medicinal use cases of psychedelics over the years, and they have been able to show a plethora of benefits in treating PTSD and depression.

It took 30 years to gather the research necessary to present the data to the FDA to move into Phase 3 trials for MDMA as a treatment for PTSD. It is projected that MDMA will be legally approved as a prescription drug for PTSD under the guidance of a MAPS psychotherapist in 2021. Thanks to Rick Doblin’s resilient acts of nonconformity, the legal medicinal potential of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy is becoming a reality.

Mahatma Gandhi

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. We need not wait to see what others do.” -Gandhi

Gandhi was a true nonconformist as his nonviolent civil disobedience led India into independence from Great Britain. In 1893, Gandhi was thrown off a train in South Africa because of his Indian heritage after refusing to leave the first-class cabin because of his color. This act of civil disobedience awakened a determination to attempt to overcome the “deep disease of color prejudice.” It was this act that led Gandhi to eventually grow into a leading activist in civil rights.

Gandhi went on to lead the Salt March in protest of Britain’s monopoly over salt production. Gandhi spent years in prison for his actions, yet he continued with the path of civil disobedience until he was assassinated in 1948. Gandhi’s acts of nonconformity led India into Independence, created a practical blueprint for nonviolent civil disobedience, and inspired other activists such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.

A Last Word

Nonconformity is the underlying theme these individuals shared that reshaped society for the progress of humanity. They refused to acquiesce to the indoctrination of their times as they challenged the status quo and devoted their lives to the changes they hoped were possible.

Despite the constant ridicule, uncertainty, and unjust authorities, they pursued their paths with tenacity against all odds. They faced the obstacles head-on paving paths and planting seeds. Their bold actions led to reshaping the fundamental structures of society, science, and psychology. Their lives are proof that the progress we seek is possible through actions of nonconformity.

“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” -Albert Camus

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store