These are the thoughts of a Texas transplant in West Michigan who makes his living as a newspaper reporter by evening, and a struggling novelist by day.

Friday, December 03, 2010

"In Groups We Shrink"

This week in my English classes we discussed the dynamics of a crowd or group. We examined two essays, "In Groups We Shrink" by Carol Tavris and George Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant." Orwell's essay was an example that accompanied Tavris' essay.

What the essays were saying had to do with how a person, or individual, "shrinks" in a crowd. Individuals lose who they are once they are in a crowd. Something happens that we become part of the collective. The group operates as one. I used the example of the Borg from Star Trek: Next Generation. I also told the classes a story of an incident when I was 12 or so, where we were gathered in San Jose outside one of hte houses. Two boys started fighting. Really one boy started picking on another boy. This other boy was slow. Still, we all gathered in a half circle and watched as this boy got his assed kicked around. Some spectators watched, others cheered. But no one did a damn thing to stop it. Why? WE knew it was wrong. This boy caused no harm to anyone.

We learned that when the crowd works as a whole, no one wants to step up. Reasons for this include: embarrassment, defussion of responsibility, fear of retaliation and approval of the action.

We don't want to go against the group. We can be seen as outcasts. So we sit back and watch as events transpire. It's sick , really. I remember the events of htat day in San Jose very vivid, even though it was more than 25 years ago. Events stay with you.

In his essay, Orwell talks about a time when he shot and killed an elephant that had gone rogue (he eventually killed a man). Orwell, who was a police officer in Burma which was under British rule, was sent out to kill the elephant. Two thousand Burmans showed up. He did not want to kill it, felt the elephant (who was in heat) had finally calmed. But the crowd "wanted" it, though no one actually told him to kill it. He felt compelled to do it. And if he hadn't killed the elephant, there would have been tremendous embarrassement-- he was after all a police officer (and the minority in Burma, even though Britons controlled). He felt helpless and shot the elephant. It took many shots and much time until the elephant died. He felt bad but justified thekilled because the elephant killed a man.

Crowds are dangerous.

The next time you're in a crowd, watch the dynamics of everyone. If something is occurring, would you agree with it or just following and going with the flow because everyone else is and if you stepped up and disagreed, you might become the next victim.

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