We all benefit from the advantages of group think. No single person has the time to base every decision upon only the information which they have alone amassed. As the speed of everyday life and the volume of information we are exposed to rapidly grows, so does the pressure to make rapid decisions. Thus people are inclined now more than ever before to tap into a group consciousness for answers to their quandaries.
It is also much easier to keep your head down and follow the herd, than to stop for a moment, look around, and fear being left behind. However if you never look up, the herd may carry you far from where you truly desire to go. By always defaulting to group think, you sacrifice your individuality, personal ambitions and the chance of having a true understanding.
An illustration of the growth and simplification of group think is characterized by the rivaling political machines in the United States. Televised debate now consists of oversimplified (and thus not entirely accurate) talking points, canned lines, unverifiable claims, and Tweets limited to 144 characters. The common viewer of such theatrics simply tunes into their preferred representation of reality, which is often far from the actual reality. The longer a person decides to buy into such a reality, the harder it becomes for them to ever consider an alternative.
We are incredibly afraid of making wrong decisions. Our beliefs and actions are innate to how we believe we are as people. We desire to remain congruent to how ourselves and others view us to be. If we have heavily bought into a particular group think mentality, it has undoubtedly become a part of who we are. To now question the group is to question ourselves and all our past decisions. The fear that so much of who we are is based upon false information is enough to trigger an existential crisis. Thus many individuals choose to double down on their beliefs and shroud themselves so deeply in group think that any contradictory voice can no longer be heard, including their own. By doing this one defers personal control over their life to the will of the group in return for comfort, a stable self-image and acceptance.
The following guideline can help ensure that one remains a free thinker.
1. Even if you are adamantly against a position, can you argue both sides of a dispute?
2. What is the original source of information, and could it be biased?
3. What is there to be gained or lost by a group or group leaders?
4. Why must this be done this way?
If you desire to maximize the influence that your actions have upon your life and the world, your model of reality must be as accurate as possible. If we were still convinced of the once prevalent belief that the Earth is the center of the universe, we would not have been able to land a man on the moon. Likewise, if your are living your life by someone else’s arbitrary rules, you may never be able to achieve your own goals. Social pressure to comply with group think may box you into a corner and greatly limit your freedom. Just because everyone else is signing a mortgage on the largest house they can afford, having children, or paying exuberant tuition fees, does not mean it is the correct decision for you. The world favors the most adaptable. If you live your life by outdated rules or traditions, you lose the ability to take full advantage of current situations and benefit yourself. The more that you are exposed to, the greater perspective you can bring to new issues.
Remain curious, question everything, and think your own thoughts.