How do large groups of people suddenly change what they do or how they think in a short period of time? It’s something I’ve been thinking about lately. It’s something I’ve heard others talk about and wonder. How do so many people vote for a certain candidate when not even a year ago this candidate was considered a celebrity candidate who wasn’t serious about running? How do people all of sudden make a dramatic shift in belief about a social issue? How do people all of a sudden jump on board blaming another group of people for their problems or safety concerns?
I don’t have the answers for those questions. I’m not sure anyone does really. I also don’t think there is one answer to these questions. I think the answers are complex and go beyond rational reasoning.
I do have a few theories though. I’d love to hear your thoughts about what causes large groups of people to suddenly change position and do what was impossible just a short time before.
I think part of the answer lies in the herd mentality. It’s when people get into a group, they often stop thinking as individuals. The group takes on a life of it’s own. There’s psychology that talks about this. It’s a weird phenomenon, yet I think most people are aware that it exists and have experienced it at least once.
Secondly, I think social pressure plays a part to why large groups of people would do an about face suddenly. There are few things more important to people than social acceptance. People will do a complete change on just about anything in order to be seen as fitting in. Social pressure is a powerful motivator. It’s been used quite effectively in the past to get people to do some violent things, or adopt some very violent ways of thinking.
Third, authority. People succumb to threats by those in authority. I think this links with the second point. And sometimes we may not even realize what’s going on. I received a phone call from a 202 area code – which is the area code for Washington, DC. It was a recording of someone claiming to be an IRS agent who was calling me to resolved a situation in which I was being accused of tax fraud. I was to call a given number immediately to avoid penalties and possible jail time. When you are sitting there and it hasn’t happened to you, you are probably thinking, oh, that’s fraud. It was. Yet, even knowing that, I still had something within me that had the urge to call. I didn’t though. I did report it to the IRS though. Authority is still a very powerful motivator for people. Those with authority have a deep responsibility to use it appropriately.
Fourth, having the answers. Having the answers to questions is a powerful way to draw people in. This is part of the draw to fundamentalist theologies and politics. The preachers who adopt these beliefs have all the answers to life questions and about God – you know the most mysterious being in the universe. It’s part of the draw to nationalistic and populist politics as well. The leaders have all the answers to the problems the nation faces – you know, a nation of over 300 million people that covers something like half the continent. It’s a human desire to want to have the answers – it’s very appealing. Unfortunately, it’s usually a lie.
Lastly, Fear. Fear drives people to do so many things. Fear is irrational and will cause people to give up what they value most and do really stupid or violent things. Fear is a very powerful motivator. Watch out when you hear someone preaching a message of fear – true in politics and religion. The reality is probably that they want something out of you – loyalty or money or your vote or who knows what. And when these people get in power, guess what they will use to stay there – more fear.
So how do you prevent yourself from being sucked in to all of this? Great question. Again, not something I have the answer to. It’s not easy to dismiss these things, especially when they are put in our face constantly through electronic devices we keep shoving in our own faces.
I know this much – if you understand the “why” of something, you’ll figure out the “how” that works best for you. What I mean is this: If you know why it’s not good to be sucked into a crowd and crowd mentality, then you’ll figure out a way to be aware of it and ways to prevent yourself being sucked in. That may be different methods for different people.
I also know that an approach that works for me is to really listen when I am confronted with someone in authority or a group speaking at me. Listen to the words they are using. Listen to your body and your reaction to it. Are you tense, fearful, angry, etc. It’s probably best pull yourself away from it. Christians are told to fear not many times by Jesus. Timeless advice for us to take in.