As a university student from an affluent neighborhood, I was always exposed to the same social narrative of the “successful” person. During high school, I remember how much importance was placed on getting good grades, going to a good university, and finding good internships in order to find a good job. I was just as guilty as anyone else in beefing up my résumé so I could follow the same path.
There was no “Aha!” moment when I realized that this social narrative of success was misleading and often detrimental to my own creativity, career, and happiness. It was a gradual process that I had to learn. Like many other independent thinkers, I refer to following this social narrative as “group think”. As Owen Cook says, the “group think” mentality can have a comforting place in everyone’s lives. It provides a framework for a beginning, middle, and an end. The trick is to maintain the comfort for your brain, while understanding how to break free from “group think” when it is not applicable to you.
Traditional Social Narratives Today
Society is consistently changing and so are the ideals that fit within the “group think” mentality. As a student of a large public university, one of the most important aspects of this mentality is the idea that everyone needs to get good grades, attend the best university possible, and assure your place in a good middle-income job working for someone else for the rest of your life.
As this social narrative has taken root deep within the fabric of society, the cost of getting this education is soared. There is more student loan debt than any other kind in the United States. Compared to real estate and inflation, the cost of education has increased the most. Young individuals are leaving college with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.
…And yet more enroll.
This is how “group think” can be disastrous for your own life. Following the social narrative you have been bombarded with your entire life will lead you to do illogical things. More importantly, they will lead you to do things that are detrimental to your future. That isn’t to say a university education is bad. Far from it. I am a student, but I realize that getting a masters degree / PhD, as many people in my field would do, is not the right path. Even now, I am unsure as to whether or not my degree will even help me to attain my goals and happiness, but I have past the point of no return.
Breaking Free From Group Think
A college education and success are not the only elements of “group think” that can be detrimental to your life. From the day we are born, humans are taught aspects of the social narrative by parents, teachers, the media, advertising, and even friends. Here are a few other things that might be leading your life in an illogical or unhappy direction:
• Religion – it does not matter which religion or denomination you are a part of. The concept of organized religion is governed by “group think”. What is scary about religion, as the famous evolutionary scientist Christopher Hitchens often discusses, is the desire to be lead. He relates in one Q&A session how many religious people gravitate towards a guide or a leader (god). The “group think” narrative can make people comfortable, just as religion does, but that does not make it either real or useful for you to achieve your goals.
• Marriage – one of the other “group think” mentalities that governs many peoples’ relationship with one another is the concept of marriage. The festivities that surround a wedding are fun, romantic, and emotionally gratifying. Yet, the concept of creating a contract of your love for another person is not always the best option. As Eckhart Tolle jokes, “…you’re not going to leave me because that would have dire consequences if you broke that contract.” And so, America maintains one of the highest divorce rates in the world with bitter custody and property battles often ensuing.
• Political extremes – there are people still living who have witnessed the horrors of “group think” first hand. When Nazism and Fascism swept across Europe, millions of Jews, Slavs, Serbs, Roma, and other ethnicities were sought for extermination. Many ordinary citizens were willing participants in the genocide despite otherwise normal behavior simply because they could not view events through their own eyes.
Admit it Exists and Think for Yourself
The only real way to break free from “group think” is to simply admit that it exists. Admit that you have been bombarded with society’s version of the ideal your entire life and realize it does not always apply to you. Consider every decision that you make from the perspective of your own eyes and your own experiences. It may feel comfortable to live within the “group think” mentality when it comes to your career, your faith, or many other aspects of your life, but that does not mean they will truly help you. Some parts of the social narrative might be exactly what you need, but have the wherewithal to make that decision for yourself.