By: Tonya Mead, PhD, MBA, M.Ed, School-based Psychologist
Is it possible to help your child reject tribalism and tribal groupthink mentality? Tribalism can contribute to poor decision making, increase the probability of closed-mindedness, encourage prejudicial and group stereotyping, and stifle creative thinking and growth.
The Dangers of Groupthink and Tribal Mentality
Janis, the original author who coined the term and wrote the book, “Groupthink” in 1971 found that the consensus-seeking goal of group members can become so overwhelming that it debilitates individual members’ consideration of contrasting viewpoints and ideologies in subservience to those adhered to by the tribe.
Bad Tribalism and Groupthink: Anger, Jealousy and Spite
According to an article appearing in Psychology Today, “When Tribalism Goes Bad,” tribalism can bring out the worst in group members who come together out of “anger, jealousy, and spite.” As we know, hanging around people with bad habits, attitudes, behaviors, and thoughts can negatively influence our own. David McClelland, social psychologist at Harvard University conducted research with findings showing that, “the people you associate with determine 95% of your success or failure in life.”
The Tribe and Tribalism: The Birds of a Feather Flock Together
It has been said that, “the birds of a feather flock together.” What do you do if you are a parent of a child who identifies as one from a historically oppressed racial background, holds gender fluidity views, is in recovery from an addiction, is a recent immigrant from a third world country, or is a former convict? Typically, members of tribes such as these obtain strength, build resilience, and gain greater self-confidence when they band together with members of same or similar ‘identities’ or ‘afflictions.’ They are less inhibited for they believe they no longer need to prove themselves to ‘outsiders.’ Maybe they feel a greater sense of belonging, for there is no longer the need to hide behind the mask.
Groupthink and Tribalism: When Safe Spaces and Safe Havens become Prisons
But what happens when the tendency to immerse oneself within a particular tribe is more pronounced in the age of the internet, social media, and mobile devices? “Eagerly we log on to social networks to immerse ourselves in digital torrents of attention, confirmation and approval,” writes Fred Storseth, author of Cyber-Conformity and Safety: The Groupthink Dilemma (page 7). It may be then that the ‘safe space’ becomes instead a self-imposed thought, beliefs, and attitudes ‘prison’ where all tribe members are chained to one way of thinking, locked into one way of acting, baptized with one way of believing, and blinded by just one tribal way of looking at their world.
If I may for a moment, briefly summarize in bullets paraphrased bullets of Janis’ symptoms of Groupthink and Tribalism.
The Fallacies of Tribalism and Groupthink
- The utilization of race, group and tribe baiting will work now, as it has in the past.
- The morality of our group is far greater than the morality held by those in other groups.
- The collective rationalization that conditions that the group does not affirm (love, impartiality) does not exist and that which the group affirms is the only condition that exists (hate, prejudice) despite individual experiences to the contrary.
- The wholesale belief and acceptance of other group stereotypes without regard to individual differences.
- The individual members of groups and tribes often practice self-censorship.
- The perpetuation that all members of the tribe or group think the same without varying levels of agreement or dissension.
- The application of direct, immediate, vengeful pressure from group and tribal members applied on dissenters with overwhelming force.
- The appointment of mindguards to protect status leaders (Al Sharpton) from troublesome members and ideas.
Thanks for all the mumbo jumbo, you may say. Thanks for presenting this information, but, what about the solutions? As parents, how might we help our child reject bad tribalism, Groupthink and even faulty peer pressure?
Recommendations for Teaching your Child Reject Tribal Groupthink Mentality
- Encourage your child to pay attention to his/her physiological signs of discomfort. For instance, when participating in tribal group activities, does your child experience increased heart beats, sweaty palms, rapid breathing, or stomach queasiness? These may serve as signs that your child is uncomfortable or uneasy about the friends with whom she/he is around or associating.
- Embolden your child to broaden his/her friendships or social network to include all types of individuals from differing cultures, races, income levels, gender identities, and experiences. Firsthand knowledge and experience with members of other ‘tribes’ may (a) reduce the tendency to label others and (b) reduce his/her reliance upon members, (c) lessen the probability that acceptance of a false dichotomous view of society (us/them, black/white, insider/outsider, popular/unpopular, rich/poor, republican/democrat, elite/redneck, rural/ghetto) will take root. Finally, a broad base of different types of friends will help your child (d) reduce her dependence upon her own tribe for acceptance and validation.
- Reduce the tendency to voice negative views of other groups while holding conversations within the home, during breakfast, lunch, dinner, and other family gatherings. Even in church, school, college, and at the university. Often, at a very early age, children adopt the limiting viewpoints and opinions of close family members even before they have been exposed to others outside of the nuclear family.
Dr. Mead, PhD, MBA, MA http://www.ishareknowledge.com is a consultant specializing in human behavior, school and social psychology. She can be contacted at: tonya at ishareknowledge dot com