09 August 2008

Antidotes to Groupthink: Considered Values and Moral Courage

I am working my way through a list of antidotes to groupthink that I compiled in early July. It's pure coincidence that the next two items on the list happen to be
considered values
moral courage
and that John Edwards has become a handy current example of someone who possesses neither of these.

Contemporary politics and groupthink go together like contemporary politicians and betrayal; it doesn't greatly matter which side of the aisle one prefers; the disease is the same, only the symptoms differ. Having said that, I want to reiterate that this post does not have its origin in L'Affaire Edwards; these items were simply next on the list, and their time is now.

Considered values - as distinct from unconsidered values - are another key component in groupthink-resistance. It is very important to emphasize the term 'considered' here; the more commonly used psychological term is 'internalized', but I find it too passive and mechanistic a word for the process.

The term is self-explanatory. These are values that you have actively considered, seriously pondered, debated, and chosen to hold. You have invested time and thought in them. They are your values, in that sense, in a way that values imposed from without - by your family, or church, or workplace, or soccer league - are not. You have genuinely chosen them, and you will make some effort to hold on to them.

One example of such a considered value would be, of course, marital fidelity. A large number of us pay lip service to this particular value, and there are many knees jerking today with regard to it - both for and against, interestingly enough. But what does it mean to make it a considered choice?

Among the things it means is that you, when you choose it, realize then and there that it is not an abstract choice, an appealing theory. It is a practical, effortful commitment. It will require a conscious daily, sometimes hourly, choice to dedicate yourself - over and over - to the person you have chosen as your spouse [and who has chosen you, equally, as theirs]. This person will need to be in your thoughts, in your awareness, in your heart, even when they are not in the room - or the building - or the state - or the country - with you. You will, at times, need to expend emotional and mental energy to keep them there. This may not always be easy, it may not always seem rewarding, it will, at times, be something you may very much want NOT to do. But this considered value, this moral choice, is not something that you can stroll around a corner and remove, like a pullover sweater or a wedding band, then reassume before you stroll back out into the main concourse of humanity again.

What I am describing is work, sometimes very hard work indeed. And in that sense, 'marital fidelity' is an excellent example of a considered value. No considered values are effortlessly maintained. That, in fact, is why it is so vitally important to consider them.

Other considered values might be:
~Opposition to bullying. At any age, in any setting.
~Opposition to bigotry. Of any kind. Beginning with race, faith, and gender, but continuing from there into more 'covert' territory. [Some of the most pernicious bigotry is occupational: 'closed shops' that only hire, or only keep, members of a particular group (e.g., Harvard graduates / Pharm. D.s / ex-Navy men / tennis players). Make no mistake: this is bigotry, and it can be extremely damaging and prejudicial to those targeted by it.]
~Opposition to falsehood - whether covert or overt.

and their positive counterparts:

~Dedication to fairness, insofar as each of us can advocate and model it.
~Dedication to equality, likewise.
~Dedication to truth - wisely and appropriately seasoned with mercy.
You can see that these are not 'floor models' - in ordinary daily life, if these are among your values, you'll be challenged to uphold them. Early and often. Beginning, of course, with yourself, your own attitudes and practices.

The process of applying and upholding your values is where moral courage comes in. This is also known as the virtue of fortitude - guts; backbone. And it is key to resisting groupthink, especially that form of groupthink that presents itself as peer pressure. A desire to 'fit in'. A longing to be approved of by the group, to have things easy, to avoid friction.

Let me be both clear and careful here. I'm not advocating contentiousness, nor arguing for the sake of argument; nor am I endorsing the kind of tiresome obstructionism that masquerades as righteousness but is in fact nothing more than drama [the sort of last-minute quibbling that occurs, for example, when the townhouse condominium board is about to adjourn and its resident busybody makes a motion that the prohibition on satellite dishes as eyesores should include those installed in people's attics, out of sight.]

Nor am I advocating a grim and humorless life as the self-appointed guardian of all virtue for miles around.

What I am advocating is that you know what you believe; know why you believe it; be able to advocate for it because you really do understand what it means and implies; and be prepared to do so when challenged, because you will almost certainly be challenged.

If you reach this point, you will discover that you are often led to examine and challenge yourself; your own unthinking reactions and responses may surprise you, and you may find your moral courage getting an intense regular workout in the realm of self-control. This is a wonderful formula for finding humility, and in true humility there is much humor and very little room for grimness to take hold.

And groupthink? Amazingly enough, it will become very obvious, and much of its power to attract - and intimidate - will be lost.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I appreciate what you said about marital fidelity.

The cult we survived used to attack marital fidelity like a rabid dog. The cult leader has written on this very topic, stating that a husband and wife who act together and cannot be separated are a formidable force. The fact that his agenda was to have all men and women worshipping at his own feet made his attack against marriages and families all the more abhorrent.

His greatest act of destruction was to turn husbands and wives against each other, forcing men out, forcing women out, leaving families, children and grandchildren behind them. One man recently committed suicide because he couldn't live with the stress of living a life which went against every heartfelt value he cherished.

In a cult, your 'values' eventually become those of the cult, which makes it even more difficult to fight groupthink, because it makes any opposition into an act of heresy.

Such are is the tangled web of manipulation and brainwashing that religious cults weave.

10 August, 2008 05:02  
Blogger Stormchild said...

Good grief, Meg.

What part of "Forsaking all others, cleave unto him/her" didn't they understand?

I'm being sarky. They understand very well. A true marriage is a formidable redoubt, as are true friendships, strong love between parents and children, honorable treatment of colleagues, etc. Of course an abusive / cultic church or other similar group will do everything possible to undermine such fortresses...

... and to substitute adulation of the leader for the love of God. That's an old, old scam; it was old when Ezekiel [28] and Isaiah [14] were written.

10 August, 2008 17:31  

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