“The dissenter is every human being at those moments of his life when he resigns momentarily from the herd and thinks for himself.” ~Archibald Macleish
Synergy- Uniting in our Difference for the Highest Good!
By: Ian Lawton
A wise member of a previous parish said to me, “Never be afraid to be a minority of one!” It always felt like good advice. The church has certainly provided a fair amount of practice in being a minority over the years.
A new study has shown that independence may be a forlorn hope as our brains are hardwired for social conformity. It grew out of Solomon Asch’s studies of the 1950′s that concluded that we see what we are told to believe. The more recent study, reported in June of this year, gave this conclusion some neuroscientific basis. Researchers at MIT used MRI scanners to detect which areas of the brain were active when people were carrying out various tasks. A decoy group attempted to sway the answers of the subjects in the experiments. In this case subjects agreed with the decoys’ wrong answers about 40% of the time.
The important distinction they were testing was whether brain activity showed that subjects were forming their own judgment or whether they were just feeling pressure to agree. What they found was that there was no activity in the area of the brain where conscious decisions are made.
However there was huge activity in the parts of the brain connected to emotions for those who made independent decisions that went against the group.
The frightening suggestion was that there may be too high a cost in independent thinking. It may be too emotionally draining to “got it alone”. Even more worrying was the researcher’s conclusion that there was probably nothing we could do about it. The research suggests that we are hard wired for conformity, as well as the inevitable social and cultural pressure that we feel to “fall into line”.
I’m not prepared to accept that as a fait a complis just yet. But for now lets stick with the point that the majority view holds some neurological sway with the masses. This might be called “Groupthink”.
Groupthink is a term coined by psychologist Irving Janis in 1972 to describe the process whereby a group makes irrational decisions because each member of the group attempts to conform his or her opinions to what they believe to be the consensus of the group. It’s the rule of the majority.
That’s a tough break for some who believe, like Henrik Ibsen wrote, that “The majority is never right. Never, I tell you!”
Of course it’s not that the majority is always wrong. Majority rule has its place, especially in elections and jury trials. It’s just that this new study places doubt, like a great looming shadow, over whether individuals are thinking autonomously in a given process or whether the group is swaying their judgment.
Soon after 9/11 the world was asked to “support a war on terror” in an act of blind faith in US leaders. We were told that the facts were clear.
Groupthink in this case was a response of fear and impulsive retribution.
The media abandoned its essential “devil’s advocate” role in 2002 when the majority of Americans supported the war in Iraq. Devils’ advocates are important foils to groupthink, as are dissenters. Now I’m not sure whether to be pleased or frustrated that popular opinion has turned against the war and the media have their sensory pitchforks out again. I want to agree with popular opinion in this case, but I don’t want to fall for any conformity traps.
Maybe there’s a distinction between groupthink and group synergy. Group synergy works with productive energy at a common cause even when there are different motivations and beliefs. Group synergy is the convergence of high energy interest in a cause even when it unites people with unique and independent perspectives. It’s concerned with gathering collective energy or passion rather than all members holding the same opinions or mindset.
The American civil rights movement was a great example. Groups with various expectations and agendas came together in what Martin Luther King framed as a movement in the national interest.
Now we may need global synergy to chart our way through the reign of terror. How will we unite our independent groups and motivations, our various intelligences and expertise in the interests of a more peaceful world? Groupthink can have a devastating effect on relations between religions and cultures. It can lead to prejudices that can so often play out as holy wars. Consider groupthink in relation to Islam.
The majority are giving Islam the thumbs down at present. This is unfair and ill-considered. Osama bin Laden and the London bombers are part of an extreme break out sect of Islam called Wahhabism. In fact it is Muslims themselves who have always been al-Qaeda’s principle victims. The terrorists refuse to submit to the ultimate Muslim authority, the muftis.
They disregard any teaching or ideology in Islam that doesn’t fit their agenda. Their movement can scarcely be called Islamic.
Meanwhile some Muslim leaders are modeling a healthy form of group synergy.
A July meeting held in Jordan between Sunni and Shia Muslim leaders issued a statement condemning Wahhabi violence and renouncing any judgment of other Muslims as “unbelievers”. Muslim leaders in London made it plain that the bombings had no sanction in Islam. Those implicated in the bombings were effectively excommunicated from Muslim worship and community.
Group synergy may come when political and religious leaders of all persuasions seek global peace as a common cause. This is not just about religion. Western systems have acted oppressively towards Muslims, for example Iraq sanctions and the ensuing war in Iraq. The role of the West in the Middle East must be addressed. It’s also not just about politics.
Religions need to work together to stamp out hatred based on sectarianism.
We need to foster responsible dissent from majority opinions and even promote a few devils’ advocates.
Mahatma Gandhi said, “Performance of one’s duties should be independent of public opinion.”
The brain study may be partially right about the cost of independence. Be that as it may, I feel optimistic that at least with an awareness of where the tendency to conformity comes from, we can brace ourselves for the reality of independent thinking. Braced for this reality, we can get on with thinking rationally and passionately about issues as they arise, transcending political and religious categorization.
Group synergy, with a common global cause, will run so much deeper and reach so much further than Groupthink.
As Stephen Covey said, “Synergy is the highest activity of life; it creates new untapped alternatives; it values and exploits the mental, emotional, and psychological differences between people.”
This would be an excellent launching pad for political and religious groups to unite in the highest spiritual act of all; the transcending of self and group in the interest of the whole.
“Muslims Unite! A New Reformation will Bring Your Faith into the Modern Era
British author Salman Rushdie on Thursday called for a reform movement that would move Islam into the “modern age” to combat jihadists and closed Muslim communities in the West that produce disaffected youths wielding “lethal rucksacks.”
“It is high time, for starters, that Muslims were able to study the revelation of their religion as an event inside history, not supernaturally above it,” Rushdie wrote.
Could There Be Progressive Islam in America?
Speaking of Faith with host, Krista Tippett, from American Public Media presents “Progressive Islam in America.”
This is a wonderful resource of both audio and text files, examining the role of Islam in America, and how it too may be progressing.
If this is a topic you have even a slight interest in, you will not want to miss this resource!
Click here for Speaking of Faith
Words of Wisdom from Buddha
Believe nothing just because a so-called wise person said it.
Believe nothing just because a belief is generally held.
Believe nothing just because it is said in ancient books.
Believe nothing just because it is said to be of divine origin.
Believe nothing just because someone else believes it.
Believe only what you yourself test and judge to be true.
Connections Groups to Begin September 18th!
Start reading the Sins of Scripture by John Shelby Spong now, and then join others for a 3 week discussion on this thought-provoking book. Connections groups meet Sunday mornings following the 9:30 gathering. Some copies are available for sale at the church, or pick up your copy at the Bookman in Grand Haven. For more information on this program and many others check out the Adult Programs page on our website.
Check Out the Bulletin for Sunday August 14th NOW!
“There is something in all of us that seeks the spiritual….The spiritual is inclusive. It is the deepest sense of belonging and participation. We all participate in the spiritual at all times, whether we know it or not.
There’s no place to go to be separated from the spiritual, so perhaps one might say that the spiritual is that realm of human experience which religion attempts to connect us to through dogma and practice. Sometimes it succeeds and sometimes it fails. Religion is a bridge to the spiritual ~ but the spiritual lies beyond religion. Unfortunately. In seeking the spiritual we may become attacked to the bridge rather than crossing over it.”
~Rachel Naomi Remen
With inspiring quotations like that, how could you miss joining us in community on Sunday, or at least soaking up the inspiration by reading the bulletin on our website.
Also check out our Bulletin Archive for more Progressive Christian Liturgies.
Attention All Women!
The Integral Institute (where Ian recently attended his life-changing
conference) is working in connection with the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York to put on the Women’s Integral Practice of Power and Freedom Seminar. This intensive 5-Day event is open to any woman who yearns to step boldly into her most dynamic Self. It is the first of its kind, a rare opportunity to study with Ken Wilber and his training team from Integral Institute. The Seminar is quickly approaching, running September 11-16. Allison Rockey and Toni VanDyken both attended similar conferences put on by the Integral Institute and would be happy to share the transformative experiences with you.