We often hear that humans are ‘social animals’. After the Second World War psychologists became increasingly interested in how we relate to being in groups as well as not being in groups. A group being something that has its own identity. The department that you work in is a group, if you’re at school your class can be a group, your friends are a group, your family, your gender, vegetarians, carnivores, graduates, smokers, non-smokers, even users of certain computer operating systems and so on. You see how here lies the potential for discrimination and racial hatred.
Many studies have been carried out and replicated about group behaviour and their results all appear to reach the same conclusion; by randomly categorising people into groups is in itself enough to induce bias and discrimination between those groups. So again, just like your thinking triggers categories in your mind, it appears that this is an involuntary action. Perhaps it stems from evolution where there are ‘safety in numbers’.
Let’s look again at these experiments and re-iterate their simplicity. Remember these studies have been replicated with consistent results. You randomly divide a number of people into two or more groups. You may tell participants they have been divided due to a specific reason or you can not mention anything. The point is that it doesn’t matter. You then ask the individuals to make choices regarding the group they belong to, the ‘in-group’. Results indicate that they not only always favour their group, but some choices they make favour the group over and above themselves as individuals. That is they are willing to make a choice that would be detrimental to them as an individual if it favours the group. The group clearly comes first. In addition, there is a definite bias against the other ‘out-group(s)’. A simple illustration of this is among rival sports teams and their supporters.
So what does this mean in everyday life? Many of us live by acting out roles determined by what we perceive is expected of our group and we’re in a constant loop of routine. When something happens that interrupts this loop some are at a loss as to how to move forward. At this stage it can be really helpful to evaluate everything you do. Are some decisions you’re making putting the needs of the group(s) you belong to ahead your own needs? Or are you making choices that reinforce that you definitely don’t belong to a group? Both can be unnecessary and detrimental to you.
Remember belonging to a group doesn’t mean that you have to physically be together with others that have a similar goal or interest, you may have never met your group members! A situation such as this can potentially make you act even more in favour of the perceived group. Let’s say you want to see yourself as an entrepreneur. What do you do? Perhaps you look at other entrepreneurs and try to emulate their achievements. Or maybe you admire individuals that have achieved amazing success from nothing and again you’ll study their life and try to imitate the early steps they took. Even if you don’t actually do anything, you may want to create that impression to others in the hope that it will still somehow become true. All the time you’re desperately trying to belong to that group which can make your actions even more extreme compared to actually belonging to it.
This is all fine, most of us need goals and there’s nothing wrong with striving for something. But when you find your life seems to be carrying on without you, it’s imperative you take stock of the source of some decisions you’re making. Why do you want to achieve what you’re doing? To please somebody else? To gain their approval? Sometimes people do things because they thought it was expected of them or, ‘it’s what my mother would have wanted’. Other times they assume it is what their mother would have wanted despite never being told this. Even if it was, people change their views over time and you know anyone that loves or did love you would ultimately want your happiness, regardless of any expectations they had or you perceived they had.
Allow me to stress something. This is just another piece of the jigsaw that makes up conditioning. It isn’t about the knowledge of understanding the studies or concepts I have highlighted, that’s the easy part. Sometimes people see such ideas as acquiring knowledge that once understood can be put aside or used as a stepping stone for something else to ‘learn’. Don’t make that mistake. Rarely are we willing to look within ourselves to find fault. When we try we tend to project that fault onto others and it becomes an endless game between victim and perpetrator. Use these ideas to reflect, doing so will strengthen awareness and you’ll begin to reclaim control of your life and of who you are.