There is nothing wrong with wanting to feel connected to other people and to not like the feeling when we are “alone on an island”. We all have a desire to fit in and to feel like our thoughts and actions are supported by other people. There are times however, that we must decide whether fitting in compromises who we are as an individual.
Why can it be so hard for us to stand up or speak our own mind if it will cause us to stick out from the crowd? Have we become so concerned with fitting in that we have lost our ability to think for ourselves? For us to be our own person, we must stay true to our individual thoughts instead of conforming to a group mentality.
This desire to conform or fit in can reside in something called groupthink. Simply stated, groupthink occurs when people are more concerned with conformity than they are with individual creativity and thinking. We are all guilty of groupthink in some fashion. We will examine three pitfalls of groupthink, why we fall into this trap, and what we can do to change this.
Conformity vs Individuality
People pride themselves on their individuality and being their own person. Today it seems like people lean more toward conformity and being a part of a group. Why is it we need to be surrounded with people who think like we do? If we don’t think this is true, look at who we hang out with. I think we will find most of them look and think like we do. The fastest way to conformity is to just associate with people like us. We are not exposed to other points of view and are not challenged as to why our way of thinking is only part of the equation. When this happens, we can be fooled into thinking that everyone shares our point of view and that it is the only one that matters. When we associate with people who look and think differently than we do, not only are we challenged to see a different view, but we see that this different view matters to someone else.
Status Quo vs Change
When we are more concerned with conformity than we are with individual creativity and individual thinking, we promote staying stuck in the status quo instead of looking to be a part of positive change. There is a fundamental problem with this way of thinking. When each side is focused on the status quo, there is no progress made on a resolution to the conflict that has caused the issue to begin with. If both sides keep their heels dug into the ground, no resolution that is acceptable to both sides will ever be found. When both sides are willing to look at change, then a resolution to the conflict can be found. Why do we have such a hard time with change and place such a large value on consistency? Change is happening all around us, all the time. We have all seen company after company go out of business because they did not keep pace with a changing environment. Even though we have seen this, and understand it, somehow, we try to fool ourselves and think it doesn’t apply to our own lives. What is ironic is that we really do like change. Every step of progress, every invention, and every improvement in technology has happened because someone was not satisfied with the status quo and wanted a change for the better, and these changes are something that all of us enjoy.
Arrogance vs Humility
Sometimes it is very hard for us to admit we are wrong. We will do everything we can to fight against being wrong. Groupthink adds to this problem. It causes us to significantly overrate our thoughts and significantly underrate thoughts that are different than ours. Instead of showing the humility necessary to consider someone else’s thoughts as important as our own, we trade that for the arrogance it takes to totally disregard someone else’s thoughts. Unless we are stuck in arrogance, we all know from experience that we don’t have all the answers and that we are not right all the time. Arrogance causes us to ignore this basic principle and to think that someone is wrong just because they have a thought that is different than ours. We are all aware that there are two sides to every story and that are multiple ways of getting to the same end. This fact alone should keep us from the arrogance in thinking our way is the only right way and help us to embrace the humility in understanding that someone different might have a good idea as well.
Why Do We Fall Into Groupthink?
Have we become so lazy that its easier to groupthink than it is to think for ourselves? We cannot escape the fact that life is hard, and it does not come with a set of rules. Instead of embracing this, we want to make life easier, sometimes at any cost. When it comes to people who are different than we are, it is much easier to judge, or simply think they are wrong than it is to understand where they are coming from and try to form a solution that works for both sides. Life shows us time and time again, when something is only good for one side, it is not good for the whole. Take marriage for instance, if one party is the only one that is continually getting their way, or getting their needs met, the marriage will be unhealthy and ultimately not survive. For the marriage to be healthy, both sides will need to work together to find the best solution for each side to be fulfilled and getting their needs met. This same thought process needs to take place with anything that involves different points of view.
Have we become so insecure that we are unable to try to understand or accept anything that is different than we are? Instead of spending the time necessary to gain an understanding of what is different, we just put a label on it, and most often this label is negative. This is one of the things that can make groupthink so dangerous because we see the opposing side simply as a label rather than as another human being with thoughts, desires and feelings just like us. When we allow ourselves to do this, we can disregard any feelings we should have for another human being and just see them as a label that we don’t identify with. This allows us to have a total disregard, and even hate for the opposing viewpoint because we’ve reduced it to a label we have absolutely no connection to.
There is a vast problem with either of these lines of thinking. We are all human beings and as such, we are all connected, whether we want to think so or not. What is good for only some of us individually is not good for all of us. Conversely, what is good for all of us, is ultimately good for each of us individually. We will either all be in this together and figure out the best solutions for everyone concerned, or we will end up fighting and destroying each other.
What Can We Do To Change This?
Wisdom will tell us that groupthink is one of the most unproductive and divisive things we can do. So, how do we stop promoting conformity, status quo and division and start embracing diversity?
1. Accept Diversity
We must stop only wanting to hear from people who think like we do. Unfortunately, today we see way too much of this. If someone is giving a different view than ours, we immediately tune them out, or start thinking about our argument instead of listening to their point. This does not allow us to understand valid points their position may have, and it also does not allow us to intelligently and factually dismiss points where their position is lacking. If we only consider things from our point of view, we will be very one dimensional. We will miss out on a completely different way of thinking, and in doing so, may ignore important factors that our view does not consider.
2. Embrace Change
We must stop being content with status quo and start to embrace change. We must understand that we live in an ever changing and ever evolving world, and if we are not moving forward, then we are moving backward. Our life should not be about staying stuck where we are, but instead, it should be about embracing change and continually moving forward to see where life’s journey will take us. This will require us to use our brain in a productive manner to find solutions that take both sides into account instead of allowing ourselves to fall into the brainless process of groupthink.
We must stop the arrogance of thinking our way is the only right way and anyone who is different than us is wrong. We must start viewing people who look or think different than we do, as people just like us. We must understand that we are just as different to someone else as they are to us and we don’t want other people giving no consideration to our thoughts, desires and feelings. We must understand that we are all connected and what is good for everyone must take precedent over what we think is best for us. One of the most important elements in this thinking is considering other people as important as we consider ourselves.
So, What Now?
We have a choice to make. We can either be a part of making change happen, or we will be a part of change that happens to us. To be our own person, we must look at issues from multiple sides, not just the side we associate more closely with, so that we have a more informed, well rounded view of all the potential outcomes surrounding the issues. When we can understand this, we can then challenge ourselves to come up with alternatives that focus on solutions for everyone concerned. We also must stop putting labels on people who are different than we are and realize each of are just as important as the other. We must choose to trade the arrogance of having to be right, which creates a “win/lose” outcome, for the humility of seeing another side, to create a “win/win” outcome.