If your friends jumped off a cliff…

September 7, 2011 § 4 Comments

Experiment: Fill a meeting room with smoke and see what happens.

Outcome: The meeting continues with no mention of the smoke.

When asked why they didn’t speak up (yes, this was a real experiment) the meeting’s participants said they were waiting for someone else to mention the smoke. Since no one did, each figured the situation was normal.

Conclusion: Endorsed by the group, almost any behavior, no matter how crazy or harmful will continue indefinitely.  When “everyone does it,” no one person can be held responsible.

This post is about some of the things “we,” the collective, sanction.

Let’s start with that smoke-filled meeting room—and eliminate the smoke. That leaves us with the meeting itself. If no one will speak up about smoke why would anyone volunteer a great or novel idea? My experience with meetings is that no matter how thick the smoke, or grave the subject of the meeting, all present are waiting for someone else to stick their neck out and make a suggestion, even if it is only to honestly state the obvious. “Hey, people! Something’s on fire!”

The bulk of the time in a meeting is spent a.) reviewing the previous meeting, and b.) setting up the next one. Although little will have been accomplished when you push your chair back from the table the next meeting will have been scheduled. And when the appointed hour arrives you will attend.

Here is a small sample of the things we have tacitly agreed to because we defer to the collective wisdom of the group (I trust you to enlarge the list in your comments).

The car: Move 3000 pounds of steel a dozen miles to acquire half a gallon of milk. See also: heating and cooling a 3000 ft.² house to keep 300 pounds of mammal flesh comfortable.

The plastic fork: A utensil designed to be used once and thrown away.

Those gangsta pants: A garment that requires the full-time commitment of one hand to hold it up and, when working as-designed shows off the wearer’s drawers or butt crack.

Bottled water: America has a safe and generally good-tasting water supply so abundant we wash our cars and flush our toilets with it. Yet we feel the need to enclose some of that water in plastic, creating huge profits for companies that are largely unaccountable for revealing the source of their holier-than-tap water and completely unaccountable for the trash they generate.

Global Climate Change: Are we waiting for someone else in the room to stand up and say whoo-we it’s getting hot in here? Okay, this may be too big a problem for one person to tackle.

Still, there’s got to be something wrong with sitting silent in a room full of smoke just because no one else is exhibiting panic.

From the silly to the devastating we can normalize almost anything as long as “everyone” is doing it. We have swallowed goldfish together and made war together and burned witches together and choked our oceans with garbage together. But each of these group behaviors has been committed by one individual at a time.

So I just have to ask. If your friends jumped off a cliff, would you?

Would I?

Is it too late to change the answer?

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