Author and researcher Robert Greene writes in his book The Laws of Human Nature
that you’re not as much of an individual as you think.
As Greene puts it: “To a great extent, your thoughts and belief systems are heavily influenced by the people who raised you, your colleagues at work, your friends, and the culture at large.”
You’re under subtle pressure to fit in, and you will respond to this without being aware of it.
Here are two tests to help you see how influenced you are by the groups you belong to:
1. Think of how many times you’ve promoted an idea that is contrary to the group’s position on some fundamental issue, and then held onto that idea for a long period. You probably can’t think of many times.
2. Look at the bad decisions made by a group that you belong to, and how often you went along with them.
None of us can escape the influence of group membership. We are all susceptible.
But Greene notes that some of us are more susceptible than others because of insecurities: “The less we are certain about our self-worth as individuals, the more we are unconsciously drawn toward fitting in and blending ourselves into the group spirit.”
By displaying conformity, we gain the superficial approval of the group.
We also cover up our insecurities in the process.
But while the group’s approval is fleeting, our insecurities remain – “we must continually get people’s attention to feel validated.”
For Greene, the way out of this cycle is to increase your self-esteem: “If you feel strong and confident about what makes you unique – your tastes, your values, your own experience – you can more easily resist the group effect.”
You can rely on your work and accomplishments to anchor your self-opinion. Then you won’t be as driven to constantly seek approval and attention.
Greene acknowledges that the point of increasing your self-esteem isn’t to become self-absorbed and cut off from the group.
Outwardly, you do what you can to fit in. But inwardly, you subject the group’s beliefs and ideas to scrutiny – comparing them with your own, adapting those that have merit, and rejecting others that go against your experience.
As Greene puts it: “You are putting the focus on the ideas themselves, not on where they came from.”