Monday, February 2, 2015

Beware the Herd

I always taught my children to be wary of following the herd.

You often feel better and more secure in conforming and not sticking your head out from the crowd. However, the crowd you are following can sometimes be heading in the wrong direction.

This was demonstrated a few years ago in a research study at the University of Leeds conducted by Professor Jens Krause.

The study showed that it takes a minority of just five percent to influence a crowd's direction - and that the other 95 percent follow without even realizing what is going on.
Professor Krause, with PhD student John Dyer, conducted a series of experiments in which groups of volunteers walked randomly around a large hall. Within the group, a few received instructions regarding where to walk. Participants were not allowed to communicate with one or intentionally influence anyone.
The findings in all cases revealed that the informed individuals were followed by the others in the crowd, forming a self-organizing, snake-like structure (or flock of sheep, take your pick). 
"We've all been in situations where we got swept along by a crowd," said Professor Krause. "But what's interesting about this research is that our participants ended up making a consensus decision despite the fact that they weren't allowed to talk or gesture to one another. In most cases the participants didn't realize they were being led by others at all." 
This is consistent with the observations of sales and motivation consultant, Cavett Robert, who I have quoted in these pages in the past.

“Since 95 percent of the people are imitators and only 5 percent initiators, people are persuaded more by the actions of others than by any proof we can offer.” 
                                                                       – Cavett Robert

This is the fundamental principle of the law of social proof. The fact is that most people are significantly influenced in their behavior by looking at others.

Most people want to conform. They don't want to stand out in a crowd. They are very comfortable in going with the flow. That type of human behavior works well when you have moral, ethical leaders. As a result, society functions well.

It does not work well when the leaders and initiators are evil. This has been proven over and over and over again throughout history. Some imitators imitate. However, most of the 95% become invisible. They keep their heads down and they just stay quiet so as to not rock the boat.

I am sure that most of you have also seen this famous quote that is attributed to Sir Edmund Burke.

"The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."
                                                                           -Sir Edmund Burke

However, Paul Rosenberg of the Casey Daily Dispatch places all of this in a useful context by pointing out that evil, by itself, is inherently weak and does not replicate easily. It only flourishes when the good let themselves be led astray. People obey when they should be objecting.

Yes, there is a time when good men and women must stand up for what’s right, even when it involves risk, but that moment comes only after evil has already been well established and is powerfully on the move.
Fighting evil may be an essential thing, but it isn’t the first problem—it matters only after thousands or millions of mistakes have already been made. And if those first mistakes had not been made, great fights against evil wouldn’t be necessary.
Let’s begin with a crucial point: Evil is inherently weak.
Here’s why that’s true:
Evil does not produce. It must take advantage of healthy and effective life (AKA good men and women) if it’s to succeed. Evil, by its nature, is wasteful and destructive: It breaks and kills and disrupts, but it does not produce and invent. Evil requires the production of the good in order to do its deeds.
How much territory could Caesar have conquered on his own? How many people could Joe Stalin have killed with no one to take his orders? How many people could Mao have starved to death without obedient middlemen? With duteous followers, however, evil rulers killed some 260 million people in the 20th century. The truth is that evil survives by tricking the good into doing its will. Without thousands of basically decent people confused enough to obey, evil would fail quickly.
The great tragedy of our era is the extent to which evil has been successful in convincing people to service it. Good people having yielded their wills arm evil, accommodate evil, and acquiesce to its actions.
Hannah Arendt summarized it this way:
"The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil."
People end up supporting evil because they don’t want to make up their minds at all. They want to avoid criticism and vulnerability, so they hold to the middle of the pack and avoid all risk.
These people wouldn’t initiate murders by themselves, but in the name of duty, loyalty, unity, and/or the greater good, they cooperate with evil and give it their strength. But each plays a small part—none of them stretches so far that they’d have to contemplate the final effects of their actions.
In the 20th century, however, the actions of such people led directly to the murders of 260 million people. And they did this precisely by avoiding decisions… by merely obeying.

A few useful questions to ask yourself.

Are you leading or following?

Are you following your own conscience or someone else's?

Are you more concerned with fitting in than standing up for what is right?

Are you obeying when you should be objecting?

I dare say that if every good man and woman asked these questions more often, the world would be a much better place to live.

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