Throughout my entire life, I remember the words of my Dad. All of his words of advice have guided me through the twists and turns of my life. Without those words of wisdom, it would have been so easy to go astray and find myself in a world of hurt.
There was one piece of advice that stuck out the most and it is something that guides my decisions. He often warned me about “falling in with the wrong or bad crowd or company”. No matter if you are old or young, you want to fit in and become a member of a group. The group not only provides you with friendship but, to some extent, also safety. When you really think about it, we prefer to surround ourselves with those who have a shared interest or common belief. We feel that we can truly be ourselves when we are among our comrades.
However, our desire to be part of a collective of like-minded individuals can also get us into trouble. At first, we share the same ideas and beliefs, but, over time, things may change. Common ideas may begin to evolve into more radical thinking. Radical thinking may give way to less thought and to more action. In time, we can find ourselves being swept away by the rhetoric of a few members of the group.
What I have described is how we often find ourselves “going with the flow”. We often say that we are “going along to get along”. But, going with the flow and following the will of the group can get us into a lot of trouble that we often would have avoided.
If you were to ask members of a mob why they were doing something, many would simply answer, “Well, the rest are doing it and I didn’t want to be the only one not doing it.”
When you look at how insidious groupthink can be, you begin to see how people can easily be led down a path of self-destruction. Under normal circumstances, many would not engage in wanton acts of violence or destruction, but, when you place them in a group, it becomes so easy for the mindset of the group to override responsible thought and generally-accepted social morality.
In 1971 in the basement of the Stanford University Department of Psychology, an experiment was conducted to see how groupthink can become the driving force for carrying out horrible acts against other people. This experiment is called the Stanford Prison Experiment.
In this experiment, students were assigned roles as prison guards and inmates. In time, each individual took on the behaviors of their roles. Guards became more sadistic and inmates became more disobedient. Violence became the norm. The prisoners became unstable and the guards became brutal. Over time, the actions of both groups became more and more unstable, brutal and cruel. Instead of lasting two weeks, the experiment had to be abruptly ended in six days. During the experiment, some of the students even suffered emotional breakdowns.
Although the experiment was to study the psychological effects of becoming a prisoner or prison guard, it, in a larger sense, provides an insight into how groupthink can change individuals. People who are normally caring and compassionate can easily be changed into brutal beasts who wield authority like a sledgehammer. That mindset becomes contagious and sweeps through the entire group. All the members of the group quickly find themselves swept up and become a part of a violent mob.
In chapter thirteen of the Book of Proverbs, the author writes, “Walk with the wise and become wise; associate with fools and get in trouble.”
By going along to get along with a group, you can easily find yourself going astray. You may even find yourself doing things that are immoral or that go against your beliefs. In order to keep from going astray, you should part ways with those who are leading you down a path of destruction and disobedience. Walking with the wise helps you grow as an individual. Heeding God's word and following the teachings of Jesus will give the basis of a good and righteous life.
Paul, in chapter six of his second epistle to the Corinthians, reminds us of the Words of the Lord, “Therefore, come out from among unbelievers, and separate yourselves from them, says the Lord. Don’t touch their filthy things, and I will welcome you. And I will be your Father, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”
It is so easy to fall in with bad company and do the things they do in order to fit in. But, it takes a strong person who has the strength of the Lord inside of them to walk away from those who wish to do wrong. When they ask you why you are leaving, your answer must be clear to them. You must tell them that the Lord has called you by name and that He is your Father.
By doing that, you will be giving them a message of hope and salvation. I can assure you that you weren’t the only one in the group who felt that the direction that the group was going was wrong. There will be others who need help in finding that strength that has already been given to them by the Lord. Your words could be the spark that sets their hearts ablaze in faith.
When you are thinking about becoming a member of a group, there are a lot of things to consider. First and foremost is where the group is going and what is driving them. We must at all times be ready to give an account of our actions and we cannot simply say that we were just following the others. We alone bear the responsibility of our actions.
So, in the end, the righteous person must be willing to “come out from among unbelievers” and be separate from them. You must walk with the wise and come out from among unbelievers. When you do those things, you live a life of righteousness and are able to stand firm in His grace.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.