Social Pressure

Humans are profoundly relational. We talk to ourselves like we are another person, we form relationships with clothes and pictures, we get sentimental about lamps. We can feel for just about anything like we were relating to another human. Thus not surprisingly, we are also profoundly receptive to social pressure.

In a famous study done, participants were asked to match one of 3 lines on board to the specific length of another comparison line. The choices were made to be extremely obvious which line matched up with which, with a short, medium, and long line to choose from. In anonymity, randomly selected participants were asked to give their answer, none of them got a single question wrong. Now, as a group of 7 people, 6 were actors who would confidently select the wrong line to some of the questions. A third of the participants went along with the obviously wrong choice, thus succumbing to social pressure.

Studies like this have been replicated several times over, finding that the more complex the situation, the less people trust their own judgement and the more likely they are to succumb to social pressure. Now, if people cave in to social pressure in a task as simple as matching line to another line of similar length, how likely are people to cave in the task of life itself? A task which is unbelievably complex.

Life is insanely complex, and in many cases going with the flow of the masses can prove useful. But what about the big life choices? which career? which spouse? which religion? These are intensely personal choices, which may affect different people drastically. With these personal and person-specific choices, should we be caving to social pressure? Well, I’m sure many people would say no, they would not like to have their life dictated by others, they want to live the life that is the most fulfilling to them personally.

Carl Jung saw this particular dilemma as one of the most crucial problems mankind must face. Jung thought that the purpose of the religious attitude was, in fact, designed to face this particular problem. How are we to follow our destiny? His answer, form a relationship with the transcendent. Jung thought that a mere intellectual argument was not enough for people to follow themselves, people needed to be following something greater, with a kind of religious conviction.

Humans are intensely relational, and a religious conviction is exactly designed to transcend the social norms of the day. People with religious-like convictions are the ones who abolished slavery, survived the Gulag, invented the Theory of Relativity. Carl Jung called the process of becoming ourselves, of following the transcendent self, Individuation.

The loss of the individual, the dissolution of the personal into the collective, is exactly what Jung feared would happen with the decline of religion. Carl Jung thought the person on a mission from God would be far more likely to stand up to an oppressor or act in an altruistic fashion, even when the social norms encouraged otherwise. Alexander Solzhenitsyn often remarks in the Gulag Archipelago that it was most often the religious believers who survived the longest.

A sense of purpose, destiny, a relationship with a transcendent vision which shatters the social pressure around us. Is this what is necessary to live our most fulfilling lives? It is certainly worth considering.

Hustle it up!

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