Like many writers, I often have lots of ideas circulating in my mind. This past week, I had a few themes I planned on tackling in between stories. Thinking about what was next, my friend Stephanie L. Mann (Safe Kids Now) helped me decide with her latest article on BizCatalyst 360°, “What I Learned From The Homeless That Can Save Lives.”
There has been a great deal of focus on groups in the past couple of years. Now, of course, all of us belong to groups. Human beings are part of a family, community, and many other affiliations, depending on your belief system.
Let us first talk about the positive aspects of being part of a group. First of all, even some of the most hermitic individuals must have social contact at some point in their lives. We are social beings, gravely suffering without connections evidenced by the ensuing ramifications of the Pandemic. Because of the isolation, many people have fallen into despair to the point where substance abuse and suicide have accelerated. We have just begun to see the toxic effects of this plague.
Secondly, for those of us who are extroverts, we relish our connection with groups and not just on Zoom. As much as I have benefited from this medium in my work, for group gatherings, I prefer the live and personal touch.
So far, so good! Right? Well, what are the questionable elements of groups? My answer is the emphasis on groupthink only which is nothing new. It has gone on through the ages. Even here, there are some positives. The expectation that the group will follow the rules and mores of their community is often a means to maintain law and order. Are there always positive outcomes? No, but over time, it has offered a way to separate the human species from a barbaric to a civilized society.
How can membership in a group be harmful? When the individual expects to swallow their unique voice and follow the theme of groupthink.
In other words, they become invisible within the collective morass of a congruent, noncolorful environment or suffer the consequences for speaking out, offering another opinion, or expressing a desire to take a separate path. What might the punishment be? Perhaps, ridicule, banishment, or even death if you go against the philosophy of a group.
Let us begin with an easy one, gangs such as MS13. Participation in this entity attracts many, including those gainfully employed. What draws them to this complex but deadly membership? The lure of belonging is powerful. Members are required to believe the potency of the organization is more significant than their unique voice. Thus, whatever morals they had about killing and torture are left by the wayside. Woe betide if any of them express some doubt about this. They come to recognize “kill or be killed.” Thus, falling in line and remaining invisible is the only option to survive. The will of the group supersedes all.
Where else is it dangerous? Increasingly, in our society, the need to view the world a certain way is shared by the MSM and the prevailing political climate. If you disagree with groupthink and have any influence, branding you as the worst of the worst will occur. Many people pretend or stay silent in order not to be visible. Again, this is not a new phenomenon, but one that can cause great angst for those who might want to discover the truth and not take face value the ideas propagated.
Many people remain invisible and do not allow their authentic selves to evolve. They become chameleons being whatever the majority will of the group deems. For example, there is a Senator from New England who was part of one political party. The Senator switched. Some might say that they changed the way they viewed the world. Fair enough! Based on their borderline deception to climb the ladder, however, I would argue this individual changed their position for political gain only. Like many politicians, their hyper-focused ambition rises above any ideological adherence. Sadly, it is an effective ploy.
For others less driven for fame, fortune, and power, fear of being ousted from the tribe holds prominence. Some never decipher who they are. All of us have met those types of individuals where you want to say, “Who are you?” Fear will often immobilize them from fulfilling their destiny. In their desire to fit in, some people will never take an authentic stance, remaining invisible and safe. Their challenge to try something new might be threatening to other members of the group. For example, I have seen situations where people want to change and live a better life, but at times, the implicit message by those around them, “Do not dare!” They may cloak it in manipulative language, “Why are you doing that?” or “You are never going to get anywhere.” or “That is ridiculous.” What is most potent is the adherence to groupthink. “Be a part of us. Blend in, and all will be well.”
Although I do not subscribe to many of the beliefs of Ayn Rand, some of her messages were prescient. Her dystopian novella, Anthem, written decades ago, reveals what happens when cultures devolve into only groupthink. View it as a warning from someone like Ms. Rand, who came from a totalitarian environment. Being invisible was tantamount to maintaining the collective control of communism. As my friend Stephanie shared in the article I referenced above, look what happens when you honor the uniqueness of each individual? Being a therapist, I cannot tell you the beauty of watching the flower bloom and bloom again. It is a celebration that, often, cannot be put into words.
(To Be Continued)