A recurring theme on the blog, the corresponding Facebook page and Twitter feed, over the course of the year has been exposing #Culturalinertia and discussing how it affects us. You can read those previous entries here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6.
Today, as the year nears its end, I’d like to put forth for specific consideration a slightly different type of message.
Instead of looking at specific examples of the phenomenon, let’s look at the major cause of it and the best tool available to us to over come it.
Pluralistic ignorance occurs when people erroneously infer that they feel differently from their peers, even though they are behaving similarly.
This ignorance can be reinforced or overcome by properly applying the concepts of “Social Proof.”
Social proof is based on the idea of normative social influence, which states that people will conform in order to be liked by, [people] similar to [them] or accepted by the influencer (or society).
The combination of these concepts indicates that people, when unsure of how to behave, will look to those around them who are similiar to them, or people they respect, and mirror that behavior.
The need to conform to the social proof can even force a behavioral change in someone who knows the actions they are observing to be morally incorrect so as not to be seen as different and made an outcast.
Now, consider a Person of Color being verbally abused by a White racist, if nobody stops to intervene, the social proof for those walking by is that the behavior is acceptable enough that they are not supposed to do anything about it, even if they disagree with it. Especially if they are physically similar in appearance to the attacker instead of the victim.
If there are mutliple attackers the social norm could drive enough pluralistic ignorance to compel those passing by to join in the attack instead of help the victim, even if they themselves would not normally initiate such an incident on their own.
However, if another similar looking White person stops to intervene, another will follow their lead instead of that of the attacker. This proof of proper behavior will spur more to choose the role of protectors.
When it comes to this bigotry and racism, we need to change the social proof to indicate without question that such behavior is unacceptable. We cannot allow the normal accepted response to such behavior to be apathetic indifference or a mob mentality attack.
Until we do so, we condemn ourselves to having to constantly wonder why this is still continuing, why we must keep having the same battles. And worse, we condemn those victims of it to the choice of either remaining victims or aggressively reversing the situation on their own, and then we’ll complain about their methodology instead of helping them specifically because they violated the social norms of acceptable behavior themselves.
The social proof of pluralistic ignorance becomes even harder, but more vital, to overcome when those in positions of great power and authority are openly displaying and calling for behavior we know to be abhorrent and unacceptable.
When that happens admissions of sexual assault become “locker room talk,” and secretly conspiring with adversarial governments to undermine and overthrow our own becomes “partisan disagreement.”
If you want to break the momentum of this, or any, Cultural Inertia, you must be willing to be an agent of change. You must step up and help provide the social proof that the behavior you want to see is behavior that others should mirror.
You need to be the shining light allowing those lost in the dark to see.
If you aren’t willing to do that, you have become one of those lost to the pluralistic ignorance, reinforced by the social proof you see around you, that has led you to believe that it is too late to do anything or that anything you do won’t be enough.
As long as enough people believe that, they’ll continue to be right.
It is time to change the norms.
We must, each of us, be willing to be the one that makes the change.