“A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people’s business.” – Eric Hoffer
Right off the top let me say I support doing good, I support helping people, and I’m not opposed to trying to change things. I do think it is a huge mistake to take group action to do these things and the larger the group the bigger the mistake. This is not a categorical statement as there are exceptions, but as a general rule in my opinion, group action (esp. large groups) is a mistake.
Causes, crusades, mass movements, especially organized ones, very seldom work; they usually end up with most people involved becoming frustrated and depressed. Usually the movement becomes an end in itself that takes on more importance than the original cause for which it was established. Preservation of the movement now takes priority and the formerly idealistic leaders end up trying to preserve the power and prestige they have gained as a result.
Your individual contribution to the goal of the movement is not generally amplified by joining the movement; instead it is diluted. Your participation just adds to diversity of opinion and bureaucratic piddling around and thus individual effectiveness is thwarted. Time is now spent trying to agree on strategy or tactics, planning, communication, etc. and all that before any actual work is done. Most of the resources of the group are spent on internal bureaucracy and structures instead of real action.
Your individual aims are sacrificed to the lowest common denominator of the group. Reflection, nuance, deep-diving on complex issues get lost in sloganeering and the mindless repetition of the latest revealed wisdom from the leaders or gurus. Research has repeatedly shown that people in groups, even mixed opinion groups, harden their positions and move towards becoming more extreme. You seem to lose the ability to remain open-minded and become a victim of groupthink.
Movements appeal to emotion more than intellect. Immersion in a movement gives the participant the illusion that he is part of some greater good when in reality it allows them to fool themselves into the belief that they are actually accomplishing something. What is being accomplished is support of the movement itself. Some people get off on joining movements and that is fine. If that is what you want I say go for it. Just don’t fool yourself into believing you are changing the world.
When you join a group movement you are not longer responsible for success or failure; a great way for people to avoid individual responsibility.
Taking Your Own Direct Action
“Most people think in terms of indirect alternatives – who must be changed, how people must be educated, what others should be doing. Consequently, they spend most of their lives in futile efforts to achieve what can’t be achieved – the remaking of others.” – Harry Browne
In any situation you need to ask yourself what can you do yourself to improve the situation? Forget save-the-world causes; the principle applies equally to every day action. If people around me are noisy I can take the indirect action of asking them to behave the way I want them to behave and quiet down, or I could take the direct action of putting on headphones, going in the other room, or going outside.
If I don’t like what my neighbors are doing I can try to change them or I can move. I hate moving and it is not easy, but I’ve never convinced my neighbors to do what I say either.
If you have a good idea at work, good luck trying to convince others, especially the corporate bureaucracy. Some people say it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission. I say it’s better to ask neither – just do it.
If you want to travel somewhere or eat lunch at a certain restaurant or do something else you can try to convince others to agree with your choice or you can announce what you are doing and invite them to join you.
If you think your taxes are too high, you can take the indirect action of spending your time in a futile effort to band together with other people to convince the government to lower them. Alternatively, you could take the direct action of figuring out ways to avoid them yourself.
There are few cases where joining a cause or where trying to take indirect action through others is a better approach than taking direct action yourself. It’s a mistake to believe you can accomplish more through others; you just end up frustrated and disappointed. Your actions are diluted, your goals are reshaped, and your time is wasted.
“Down to Gehenna or up to the Throne, He travels fastest who travels alone.” – Rudyard Kipling
What do YOU think? Leave a comment and join the conversation.
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