Brandt Thomas Roessler

The Soapbox applies logic and reason to critically analyze politics, current events, and daily challenges while presenting the analysis in plain, understandable language.

Groupthink: An Oxymoron

I think differently than everybody else. I perceive the world differently than everybody else. For a long time, I thought that I needed to change. But, I was wrong.

I was told that being different was to be unjustifiably rebellious, an intentional disregard for the establishment. For years--25 to be precise--I vigorously attempted to "fit in." I languished in my loneliness and resented myself for what I perceived as failure.

To be honest, I don't think anyone actually told me that I needed to fit in. Rather, it was a natural inclination towards conformity for the sake of connecting with others and mitigating my debilitating loneliness. On the other hand, noncomformity had its own consequences: judgment, ridicule, and ostracism for examples. The proverbial "carrot and stick" of human social psychology.

Have you ever wondered how flocking birds avoid midair collisions with their comrades? Probably not, but that's okay: I realize I'm mostly alone here. Do you think that the birds have a centralized leader who communicates the flight patterns and paths to the flock?

Scientists have pondered this question and developed the term "swarm behavior." No, flocking birds do not have a single "alpha-crow" that dictates the flock's patterns. Rather, the pattern is the result of individualized, behavioral decision-making rules held by each bird. Each bird knows how close to his neighbor is too close and how far apart is too risky for separation from the flock. The pattern that emerges is an amalgamation of the decision-making of each individual bird.

Human behave similarly. We want companionship, but not so much that we lose a sense of privacy. In the aggregate, a pattern of conformity emerges that specifies the boundaries of "acceptable" behavior. Wanting to neither alienate the other person nor cause our own ostracism, we modify our behavior to maintain a safe distance. 

Be that as it may, I reject the natural inclination towards conformity. Thinking differently is valuable for progress and enlightenment. Perceiving the world differently leads to new understandings and approaches to our universe.

We cannot escape the judgment of others. Regardless of what their scripture may instruct, there will always be someone who judges. The only way to truly "escape" judgment is to not pay attention to it. Easier said than done.

But, if we never summon the courage to separate from the flock, we will never rise above it.

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