I apologize in advance because my thoughts are long and complicated today…but if you decide to read this sort of philosophical rant I have written, I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter.
Humans seem naturally drawn into communities, to belong, to identify as part of a particular group. In fact, it is common knowledge that most humans abhor being truly “alone” and those that exist or create a reality for themselves where they are in fact alone, seem to possess some deficit or a least seem not to thrive compared to those who are not alone. Harvard University began a study in 1938 during the Great Depression on 268 Sophomores, tracking their health, hoping that longitudinal data would shed light on what was involved in living a happy, healthy life. To make a long story short, they realized that relationships greatly influence our happiness, and our health also improves as a by-product. Now, this is only one study, but it does give me a place to begin my idea from.
If we then look at humanity through the scope of culture, we see countless examples of humans forming various “communities” everywhere. Think of people who like the same sport, or more specifically, the same sports team. Think about religions. Think about groups of individuals who share a similar skill set. Think about the camaraderie in military groups or even people’s political associations. We, as individuals seek out others, who share some common ideology or identity and we attach ourselves to it, sometimes as if our life depended on it.
We are a species drawn to community.
Now, on a very primal and instinctive level, I’m sure most would argue that it serves as a method to preserve and perpetuate our species. Safety in numbers and all that. We see that concept in many prey animals. Herds, flocks, schools…all are groups meant to protect the weakest members of the group by sheer volume alone.
So, keeping that in mind, let’s change gears for a minute and think about how one person or group can influence another to do something, or agree to something that they wouldn’t normally do.
There are two general ways to influence. Love and Fear.
Now sure, we could get really specific about what motivates people, but I would argue that nearly everything falls into one of those two categories. So, if you are still with me, think about this…
How would you motivate an individual or group? With Love or Fear? And which is more effective?
Most people have something or someone they would sacrifice anything…everything for. As a parent, I would die to protect my children. Most parents probably would say the same. Regardless of your personal feelings about law enforcement, most emergency services: police, firefighters, and EMTs risk their lives regularly for the vulnerable of society.
Now if we move back to the idea of influencing an individual or group to do something you want, do you think that threatening the vulnerable, or using our natural instinct to protect the vulnerable would be an effective way to influence someone to do something they might not ordinarily do?
And before you assume I am talking about COVID or something else that perhaps hits close to home for you, let me say that this is not about anything as specific as that.
Take a minute to reflect on everything going on around the world. Really look at what you see, hear, and feel on a daily basis.
Would you say that generally, you are optimistic about the way the world or humanity currently functions, or would you say that you are fearful or concerned about some aspect of what you see, hear, and feel?
Where did you get your information or the evidence to base that optimism or fear from?
We are drawn to community. We thrive best and feel safest when we feel as though we belong somewhere.
Now, think about the most effective way to move a herd of animals. Is it more effective for the sheepdog to move one sheep at a time? Or is it more effective to move the entire herd using tried and tested methods, exploiting that instinct to bunch together for safety?
And when a predator seeks to capture its prey, does it try to capture the whole group, or does it try and isolate a few from the safety of the group?
In a military scenario, if you want to disrupt a group, is it more effective to slowly pick off random individuals, or will killing the commander or platoon leader cause enough chaos to sow doubt and disarray, therefore rendering the group useless?
There is a reason why these tactics are used. There is a reason why they work. They take instinct and exploit it by exerting pressure in the right area in the most effective way.
Seneca the Younger, a Roman Stoic Philosopher said that “Man is a reasoning animal.” Of course, he meant human when he used the term “man,” but his point was that we are capable of more than just instinct. We are capable of thinking, observing, and analyzing the world around us. And it is important to do so. We are not sheep despite the fact that we place ourselves into “herds” or communities. We are sovereign, autonomous beings with inherent worth and dignity. But the individual is dangerous to the collective as the individual is unpredictable and difficult to control.
It benefits the influencer to keep the individual preoccupied with their sense of belonging. About where they fit, or how they identify. Divide and conquer is as old as time itself. Pay attention to what people say to try to divide you from your communities but also, pay attention to any threat to your individuality. It is possible to both belong and be unique. But those who seek to control others will always try to undermine it using fear or what we love against us if we fail to be that “reasoning animal” that Seneca recognized the human to be.