Meghan Lange: The Group Mind
Visualize your high school days. Do you remember driving around with your friends, crammed into your car? The way you were taught to drive was based on being perceptive, avoiding distractions, and not becoming a complacent driver. When you are a teenager with your friends, however, it is considered geeky and “uncool” to be cautious, perhaps since it would be like a parent driving. So even though you know it could be dangerous, you ignore what you are taught and drive in a way that will earn you approval from your friends. You strive to entertain. Thinking back, you know how stupid it was to drive so recklessly, and you wonder what made you behave so absurdly. The answer is clear: you were obeying the Group Mind.
The Group Mind is the atmosphere unconsciously created from the behavior of a group of people. It is difficult to go against the Group Mind, mainly because we may not even be aware of it. So we submit to it, whether we realize it or not, and to follow the Group Mind, as the British novelist Doris Lessing says in her essay Group Minds, “…is to obey the atmosphere.” In other words, we lose our individualism by seeking approval from those around us, and we surrender our freedom to be ourselves.
Almost my entire eighth grade school year revolved around this Group Mind way of thinking. I was not part of a large group, just two friends, and me but the Group Mind thrives regardless of how many people there are. (For this piece, I have changed their names. We’ll call them Jane and Amy.)
The three of us started out the year getting along perfectly well: we liked the same things, accepted our differences, and laughed about everything. But soon they began to follow trends. Their clothes, attitudes, and even their personalities shifted drastically. I remained the way I was, feeling no need to change or modify myself. And thus I became an easy target for ridicule.
The atmosphere in our little triplet singled me out since I was the outsider and non-conformist. Therefore I needed to be pushed and urged to be like everyone else; to be “normal.” Jane and Amy ridiculed my clothing, hair, and even the way I walked or talked. I did not fit in, and they made sure I knew it. This went on for some time until I simply gave in. I changed my style and hid my true personality behind some new clothes. I melded into the group way of thinking, and for that whole year lost my sense of individualism. I didn’t know who I really was or what I wanted. I did what the group said was best for me, whether it be to pursue a boy they thought perfect for me or buy a skirt they felt would suit me. I was overpowered by the urge to fit in.
After breaking away from those girls and finding myself again, which took a few years, I was able to take a step back and look at those around me from a new perspective. One thing I can remember was a dance I attended, and thinking to myself, I am an individual with my own mind, as I stood by and watched everyone dancing to music I found repulsive. I was almost giggling, but decided it was best not to draw much attention to myself. What I found so humorous was the repetitiveness that completely engulfed the room. Every girl had the same dress: tight, bright, and revealing. Every girl was following the same dance routine: find a guy and grind, drop, and grind. The music was all the same, the lyrics reeking with misogynistic comments and terrible words that were muffled out. All of this combined to create an atmosphere that yelled out: “Girls, be sexual objects while the guys drool over you.” I was baffled that not one person amongst all these teenagers had decided that perhaps they should act more civilized. They were all mimicking one another, afraid to be cast out and rejected by the crowd. They were doing what they each thought was expected of them, and not thinking for themselves. They were obeying the Group Mind. The dance floor had become one big batch of obedience.
What can be quite frightening is the thought that the influences of the Group Mind can be felt globally, expanding far beyond the walls of a high school. An aspect of our day-to-day life shadowed by the Group Mind ideal is our obsession with technology. It has come to the point where people camp outside stores overnight to get their hands on the latest device, whether it is a phone or computer or some other new gadget. Our society has become addicted to technology, and we all seem to believe that we cannot live without the newest invention. We do not even question why we feel we “must have this” and “need that.” We simply buy it all, unquestionably obeying the Group Mind atmosphere fabricated by the media: buy this new phone and your life will be perfect.
Another new craze that has become wildly popular is the ever-present reality show. First popping up on channels designed solely for entertainment, they have slowly spread to other channels. The National Geographic Channel, designed to educate and enlighten, has also decided to air reality television, producing shows such as “The Hutterites” and “American Gypsies.” They are obeying the Group Mind atmosphere just like their new viewers are.
It seems strange that this concept of the Group Mind could have such a huge impact on our lives, deciding what we buy and how we act. The people we surround ourselves with can ultimately shape the people we become and, without even seeing it, the person we wanted to be is soon gone, and our ability to make our own decisions has dissolved.
What if we are already falling victim to the Group Mind? How can we prevent the Group Mind from making our decisions for us? No matter where you are, there will always be different cliques and clans that quietly rule over today’s society. We just need to be mindful of them and hold on to what makes us — well — us.