Ramblings on the Nature of "Group Think"

I have a confession to make. I was a big metal head in high school. Back in the late 80's it was an interesting sub-culture. The guys were expected to wear ripped jeans, Metallica T-shirts and long hair. They were expected to drink beer, smoke pot and generally act like immature womanizers. The ladies were expected to wear mini skirts and other sluttish clothing and flaunt over the headbanger guys. This is when I first became aware of a concept I call "group think".

You see, I was something of an anomaly in heavy metal culture. I was a girl, but I worn the ripped jean and Metallica shirt. I wasn't a druggie. I guess some of the guys were hot but what I really loved was the music. I wanted to discuss the merits of Kirk Hammett's guitar playing to Dave Mustaine's. Who was the better guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne? Was it Zakk or Jake or Randy? Very few people in the scene could hold a decent conversation about the music itself. The people enjoyed the roles of the sub-culture, but knew very little about the actual music behind it all.

A similar thing occurs in other sub-cultures. I recently found myself surrounded by a clan of devout followers of a certain religion. Being the outsider, I immediately noticed they all dressed, talked and acted exactly the same. I felt like I'd stumbled onto the movie set for "The Steppford Wives". Creepy.

The same thing occurs in racial cultures. Are there not clothing stores, music and products that cater to specifically to a certain race?

I even see this in blog culture. All the blogs I used to enjoy now all sound the same, touting the same message. Have they influenced each other so much that they have succumbed to group think? Is the need to belong so strong that we must stop thinking for ourselves and start dressing, talking, behaving and believing like the others in our favorite subculture?

Maybe group think it's a bad thing. But when folks tell me they chose a certain religion because it was what they were raised with or that someone they admire chose it I feel concerned. I've even had people tell me that just in case Hell IS in fact a real place, they want to know they are safe when they die. They don't necessarily choose a belief system based on the belief system itself.

I'm sure I'm not immune, but I gotta ask... should we be more capable and more willing to think for ourselves? Is the urge to belong so strong that it over-rides the true essence of the underlying sub-culture? Do we like having a set of prescribed rules given to us so we don't have to think about anything? Are we afraid of ridicule of being different?

I'm thinking about this a lot lately.What if an African American wanted to enjoy country western music? Would he keep it to himself for fear of being ostracized? Or would the thought even occur to him to enjoy something so far-removed from his own culture? A few married people I know choose to not be monogamous. A lot of people dislike them for breaking the rules of traditional marriage. And we occasionally hear the story about the scientist or the religious leader who suddenly stands up and goes, "Hey this isn't right. Why are we playing by these rules?"

When Thomas Edison invited his scientific colleagues to come view his new form of light, no one came. They did not believe what he was saying because it simply didn't fit into their groups way of thinking.

I often wonder what I am blind to because of my own belief system and sub-cultures that I enjoy. It's nearly impossible to see when you are blind.


Our Greatest Tool

I certainly know when life gets overly busy. The blog is the first thing to go. So much for my anticipated discipline of posting twice a week. All the "build your blog audience" sites drill home the point that you must post often and consistently. Then it occurred to me that I don't much care about building an audience right now, so that's one less pressure I need to worry about. I'm gonna post when I want when I feel moved to. There, I feel better already! Now on to today's topic.

I've been writing a lot about ego lately. During the last months I've been experimenting with some concepts around ego. It seems that people have two parts to them. The identity part, the part that is the story we tell about ourselves; and the part of us that lies "behind" our identity which I call the Authentic Self. We spend most our waking hours living in our identity/ego. We only occasionally slip into operating from the Authentic Self. We've all had the experience of being "in the zone", or having an intuitive flash about something, or doing something that comes effortlessly. We can also find this place while engaged in activities that totally turn off our mind chatter. Meditation, yoga, free dancing, or listening to music are a few things that do it for me.

Yet we cling to our ego. We truly believe we ARE our identity. I think we do this because we spend most of our time identifying with our identity! Yet, I also know that living from that ego place invokes a place of constant distress. We suffer from "not good enough" disease. "I want more" or "I want something else". The ego is never satisfied for long. Like a hungry savage dog, it constantly needs fed more meat. It does this so it can survive and continue to be needed by us.

Some traditions teach that the ego is something that should be overcome, or that it is a total illusion. I disagree. The ego is very real and in fact I believe we do need it to function in the world. Without an identity we would walk around like cattle. We wouldn't be able to function in the world and create stuff. We wouldn't be able to communicate with each other because for the most part we still communicate through our physical bodies. We relate to others based on their identity. ie "She is a female" or "He is a child" or "He doesn't like me", or whatever. However, we are only being our true self when we are in the ego-less state of  Authentic Self. So what's a person to do about this dilemma?

I think it would serve us well to change the way we view the ego. Ego is not the enemy, nor is it something we should get lost in. The ego is a TOOL. In fact it is our greatest tool to express the Authentic Self in the world. If we can view ego as merely a tool it suddenly becomes easy to be detached from it and everything it does. It also causes me to want to honor that ego. It is only through "her" that I am able to experience this amazing thing called life. It is only with her capacities that I can create things in the world using her particular set of talents. And through this amazing "tool" I can experience and relate to other people who are merely other expressions of Authentic Self. Suddenly my ego becomes a beautiful and amazing thing and the most precious tool I currently own. Although I realize it is only "on loan" to me for a rather short period of time. I must enjoy her and "use" her as much as I can while I have access to this amazing thing called EGO.