I am looking for an appropriate formal expression when we want to say that a person should not express their opinions, yet bow their head and be part of what the society considers normal and acceptable ? I am writing a motivational letter for a scholarship and I cannot come up with an appropriate expression. Thank you in advance.


Relevant expressions include:

toe the line, toe the party line - expressive of conformity and a meek acceptance of authority

Radio stations are pretty much forced to toe the line since they rely heavily on record companies for ad dollars and listener-grabbing perks like contests, interviews and concerts.

(don't) make waves - don't cause a disturbance

Being part of the jeans generation is an affirmation of the positive aspects of life, and indicates a willingness to defy convention and question tradition, rather than keep a low profile and avoid making waves.

(don't) rock the boat - don't disturb the status quo, upsetting everyone

They want to be sure that nobody rocks the boat and no major donors are offended.

(don't) stick your neck out - don't expose yourself to (social) danger by making yourself noticeable - this example also includes keep your head down, also potentially useful

You stuck your neck out when others kept their heads down and their mouths shut.

(don't) put your head over the parapet - similar to don't stick your neck out, but with more emphasis on risking upsetting someone

It is unfortunately not ‘politically correct’ in Wales to stick one’s head above the parapet and voice these concerns as I am doing.

Example sentences are taken from the dictionary references given, except for the one immediately above which is from here.

As an alternative way of going about things, it seems to me that what you describe in your question does sound like quite a Japanese situation and the Japanese proverb, deru kugi (kui) wa utareru - commonly rendered in English language texts about Japan as the nail (stake) that sticks up/out is hammered down - does sound like a reasonable thing to refer to in this situation. It's far closer in spirit to what you ask for than any of the English idioms I can think of.

Edit: After posting I saw the comment by Andrew Leach, also referring to this Japanese expression.

(Side note: as you may come across this when doing your research, the kui/kugi thing is to do with construction techniques and a certain purism - traditional Chinese and Japanese building techniques don't use nails; wooden stakes 'lock' blocks together. Kui seems more common in online references, but I've only ever heard people say kugi ...and English renderings invariably go for nail, as it very sensibly sidesteps the need for just the kind of explanation I'm giving you now!)

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