Collective Strength: The Dangers of Neglecting Responsibilities
Everyone has a group of people they share interests, work, and other passions with. It’s essential for our own personal development. Collective strength provides us with security and power and helps us feel good about ourselves. However, it also conditions us. How many times have we been unsure about a decision, but have given into social inertia, comforting ourselves by saying that other people made the same decision?
Groups guide our thoughts and our behavior. Secondary socialization helps us learn social norms. Groups help us confront hardships, but they’re also shields we use to protect ourselves from our bad actions. The problem lies when we justify our actions because “others are doing it too”.
Collective strength gives us security, but it also conditions us.
Group and identity
From the moment we’re born, we’re already part of a collective: society. We’re members of a community that includes a great number of people. However, as we grow, we don’t identify society as our group. We just start seeing ourselves as another individual. Therefore, we spend a large part of our life looking for people we feel comfortable with.
Within our personal and moral development, the collective makes up our identity and it’s especially important during adolescence. Parents stop being our guides and become part of the background. We look for other sources of knowledge and that’s how we end up with a group of peers to consolidate our personality.
Collective strength and decoupling
Continuing what we stated above, our individual identity transforms into a collective identity. We no longer see ourselves as individuals with our own conscience but as part of various groups. In other words, we lose part of our self-awareness and allow ourselves to go with the flow, sometimes guided by what others do. This is a result of collective strength.
This is an inconvenience since we delegate the criteria and responsibility for our actions to others. And it becomes a problem when our actions are antisocial and are opposite of community norms.
Decoupling emerges as a loss of such self-awareness, where individuals avoid their singular identity. The responsibility doesn’t fall on their actions as individuals, but as part of the collective to which they belong.
The responsibility then falls to all of the members of that collective. “I have behaved badly, but everyone else has done so too”. Therefore, our action becomes less offensive to us, since we alone as individuals didn’t cause the consequences, other people participated as well.
The phenomenon intensifies when we’re covered by others. Physical anonymity helps us maintain a state of invisibility to the rest of the world. Consequently, the responsibility dilutes and it’s more difficult to feel guilty for our actions. In the end, no one knows who we are.
The power of the situation
The power of the situation comprises the first principle to explain the behavior changes, despite the individual’s thoughts on the matter. The context at the time will then guide the way we behave.
The Asch experiment is a perfect example of this. It consisted of exposing a group of people to a test where they had to give a solution to a particular problem. In the experiment, many of the participants were “together” and had to give a solution that seemed correct to the rest of the group. A large percentage of the participants who were not in a group gave an incorrect answer in order to not disagree with those who were together.
This shows that what others think of us matters and we adapt our behavior to the group’s desires. We act according to what we think our group of peers expects from us. For example, in the Asch experiment, many of the participants were sure that the answer they gave was not correct but they preferred acceptance over correctness.
Groups are part of us, they modify us, and we influence them as well. We share interests and improve our capacity to relate with others in groups. However, peer pressure dilutes the perception of our bad actions. The doctrine that results is “If one goes down, we all go down together”.