This is part of a series – post links at the end.
One of the results of the power of social norms is the self-segregation of groups. Political parties are an extreme example. Christian denominations are another (very sad) example. We divide over differences, and sometimes we invest too much in those differences. Discrimination, hatred, violence, and even terrorist acts and wars have come from political or denominational differences. The worst part is that in most of these battles the choices are between two imperfect sides, each of which has some good and some bad. Hard feelings about, or fear of, “them” can prevent needed change, because no one is going to admit an idea from “them” is good, or the way “they” do something might be valid or even better than the way “we” do it.
How much are you influenced by “us and them” thinking? Is the way you parent, what you drive, where you live, or how you treat your bride affected by having to look more like “us” than “them”? Have you ever done something you didn’t want to do, or not done something you wanted to do, because you might be accused of being more like “them”? Have you ever failed to do what is right or done something wrong for the same reason?
Social groups can easily become “inbred” – lacking enough variety to function well, and unable to change even when change is needed. If your dedication to a group is too great, it will do harm to you. Sometimes you can help move a group along, sometimes you can’t. Some groups will tolerate more variety than others will, but all have a limit. When the limits are valid ones, such as scriptural limits, this is a good thing; when the limits are based on wrong information, or are outdated, they can do great harm.
If you want to avoid being carried along by the crowd you need to learn to observe and think. Know when to say, “wait a minute” and when to kindly disagree. Know when to choose to disagree, and when integrity requires you to follow a different path – even if it takes you out of a group or gets you thrown out. Remember, we are judged by God’s standard, not the standards of our groups. In like manner, we will answer for what we subjected our wife and children to, and if we protected them from wrong. The desire to belong is strong, and the urge to conform even when it means doing something “less than right” can be very difficult to resist, but we must do what is right no matter what.
Image © Dr Seuss – The Sneetches and Other Stories (AffLink)
In this series about how normative influence shapes our lives:
Why we follow the crowd
Letting others influence your actions
The smallest cultural group
Your marriage as a tool to being a better person
Is your social group inbred?
Is artificial society influencing you?
The voices in the marriage chamber
Wrap up on social influence