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Are You Your Own Person? Probably Not

Updated on November 7, 2015

Why do you believe what you believe? Where did you morality come from? Where do your values come from? Most people like to believe they are their own person. They want to believe their values, opinions and thoughts are their own. Most of us go through life without ever questioning the way we think. We don't consider how social influences affect our life. But, the effect of social influence is stronger than most people will ever realize.

There have been several social experiments conducted that prove how powerful social conditioning can be. I am not going to link to them, but you can search for them if you like.

In one experiment, several people were told to walk randomly around a large hall. They were not allowed to communicate with each other at all. But, a few were told to walk in a certain pattern. The result? It didn't take long for the entire group to start walking in the same pattern.

The experimenters did the test several times. They adjusted the number of people who were given specific instructions. They found it only takes 5% of the crowd to influence the whole group.

In another study, a test subject was told to sit down in a waiting room full of people. The catch was everyone else in the room was an actor. Every few minutes the experiments would activate a buzzer. When the buzzer went off, all of the actors stood up for several seconds and sat back down.

The test subject was confused at first, but he was quick to follow the group. Now, whenever the buzzer went off, he also stood up and sat back down.

For the next part of the test, the actors were called out of the room one by one. Only the test subject was left. Even though he was the only one in the room, he stood up and sat back down every time the buzzer went off.

Here is the interesting part. New test subjects were brought into the room. The new test subjects saw the original subject stand up and sit back down whenever the buzzer went off. The new test subjects are also starting to stand up at the buzzer.

This shows how social norms spread. Many standards held by various culture do not benefit them at all. In fact, social norms are sometimes harmful. It does not matter. "That is just the way we do things".

Most people feel that their values, and that of their culture, are superior to all other points of view. This is called home team bias. Let's look at an example.

In the United States, we look at the way most women in middle eastern cultures dress as being repressive and unnecessary. While I agree with this, I am pointing it out to prove a point. But, the women in those cultures look at the way we dress in America as being shameful. They believe their point of view is true just as much as we believe in our own point of view.

This is where I am going to have some fun messing with your head. As you sit here and read this, you are nodding your head in agreement. You know your point of view is correct. You find it hard to believe how *others* are so easily influenced.

So, let me ask you this. How would you react if you seen me, a grown man, walking down the street naked? Most of you would call the police. You are aware that there are cultures where it's normal to walk around naked. In fact, this is normal behavior in the Netherlands, as well as other countries. In some countries, it is even acceptable to have sex in public.

You will probably find that weird, and you most likely think they should not expose themselves in such a way. Guess what? That is exactly how some people in middle eastern cultures view us. They would be just as offended by seeing a women with her knees exposed as you would be seeing me walking around naked. The people from cultures where it's normal to walk around naked look at Americans and wondered why we are so repressed.

This is another fun topic for me. People love taking the moral high ground. Whether it's a terrorist blowing up a crowd of "infidels" or a local church slut-shaming a teenager for exploring her sexuality, people love to feel morally superior.

Do you feel it's wrong to do drugs or have consensual sex with a 17-year-old? Most people in American culture would agree that those things are morally wrong. But, these same people will gladly sip their cup of Starbucks coffee while wearing their designer clothes.

Doing drugs and having sex with a teenager have one thing in common. No third party was harmed against their will. But, Starbucks and most name-brand fashion manufacturers ship their factories overseas. They do this so they can get cheap labor. Yes, that's why the economy sucks. But, that's a different topic.

It no secret that a lot of name brands outsource to companies who utilize slavery. You can't pretend you didn't know. It was on the news. Some of them even use child slaves. A lot name brand clothes were made by 12 years olds who will never be able to afford to wear the clothes they make

The same people who judge drug use, nudity or consensual sex with teenagers as immoral will still put on their name brand clothes and buy their cup of Starbucks in the morning. The former causes no harm to anyone. The later supports companies that utilize slavery.

What about the anti-bullying movement? I think it's a great cause. But, people used to not care about bullying. The only reason they care now is because it become a social movement. It's one of those "everyone else is doing it" situations.

Conformity can be comforting. But, is going along with the crowd the right thing to do? If I were to ask most people if they would have supported the Nazis if they had been a German citizen during Hitler's dictarorship, they would respond with a respond "NO!".

What were the German citizens who supported Hitler doing? They were conforming with the crowd. They were conforming with the crowd the same as anyone who else who wants to be accepted does. It was no different that any other social normal.

The same is true about terrorist. They don't all sit in some cave laughing about how evil they are. No, they believe they are fighting for a higher good. They think they are serving a great purpose. They are following their social norms.

What would you do if you grew up as a German during Hitler's dictatorship? Would you think for yourself? Or, would you simply follow the crowd? If you follow social norms now, what would be different if you grew up in Hitler's Germany? Do you have the courage to answer honestly?

If you read this far, I would like to congratulate you. A lot of people will get offended by this article. The longer we believe something, the more we accept that belief as part of our identity. Therefore, admitting we were wrong about a core belief would result in an identity crisis. Most of us avoid discomfort at all costs. It's much easier to be outraged at how "wrong" others are than to accept our own mistakes.

Being drawn into social conditioning is part of our nature. Humans are social animals. We have a natural desire to fit in.

There is no way to completely avoid social influence. But, there are several things we can do to reduce its impact. The first thing is to analyze everything we are told. Does it make sense? Is there supporting evidence?

The next thing is to choose your influences wisely. The personalities of those we hang out with can influence us in ways we don't even know. It happens at a subconscious level.

I challenge everyone to find the courage to be themselves. If I offend you, good. It challenged your subjective perceptions.


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