The American sheep

There are two common ways of thinking in any specific situation. The first being to fulfill one’s own personal needs and desires with no specific regard for others around you. The second, basing your decision on how it will be viewed by others. The vast majority of people falls on the side of the second, being greatly worried and influenced by what others are saying and thinking. The “looking glass self”is a term for the image that people have of themselves based on how they believe others perceive them. Both good and bad can come from living in this manner, for the most part however it has seemed to remain constant throughout history.


People have a natural desire to belong, and fit in with a certain group. Whichever group an individual may choose it is almost inevitable that the individual will be forced at some point, to sacrifice part of themselves in order to obtain the sense of belonging that they desire. People are compelled to seek companionship, often feeling to weak to stand-alone. As a result, they choose to stand together in whatever group they are best suited to. For some this overwhelming fear of being alone can be disastrous. These are people who will stand together with any group good or bad simply to keep themselves from feeling alone. C.S. Lewis hypothesized that the desire to belong and fit in is a natural human characteristic. He believed that people have an instinctive drive to belong, in the same sort of way that a species instinctively is driven to reproduce.

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Often in society people forming groups commit unspeakable acts, finding shelter in the sheer numbers of those involved. A series of experiments performed some years back demonstrated a term known as “blind obedience.” A subject was placed in a control booth that contained a microphone and panel with a series of numbered switches. The subject was then instructed that he or she would ask specific questions to a participant in another room. Should the second subject respond with an incorrect answer, the inquisitor was instructed to flip the first switch in the succession. Administering an electric shock to the second subject, which was increased in severity with each incorrect answer given. In reality an electrical shock was actually not being administered, although the person asking the questions believed that it was.


The sound of mild discomfort, such as “ouch” or a “damn that smarts” would accompany the flip of the first switch. As the severity of the shock was believed to be increased so was the sound of the suffering. Working up to agonizing screams of pain and pleading such as “please I don’t want to do this anymore” and “I’m begging you please stop.” Whenever the subject administering the shock began to show signs of compassion and not wanting to continue, the researchers quickly reassured them that it was perfectly ok. After explaining to the subject that it was all part of the experiment some people would continue exhibiting little or no resistance.


Despite all of their senses telling them that what was happening went against their moral principals. Over eighty percent of the subjects, continued past the point where they believed that the next switch could actually endanger the very life of the other participant. When asked individually why they would cause another human being such pain, for the most part they responded by saying “because they said it was okay.” This can be directly related to the issue of people doing things because a higher social group or their own peer group gave their approval. In the particular example those involved sacrifice any sense of morals or upbringing that they may have had because “they” said it was okay.


People throughout history have been influenced by members of society to try drugs, alcohol, and countless other unwise activities. The reason behind this is clear; the human desire to fit in and obtain a feeling of belonging is too strong for most to resist, when the consequences of resisting could mean having to stand-alone. I am reminded of the story of King Midas and his golden touch, although he possessed all the gold that a king could desire he was miserable without being able to have simple human touch. People need people because as a whole we seem to believe that we will become weak and scared if faced with solitude. Will we? Someone once said that what we believe molds our reality. Using this statement I would say that one must ask one’s self, just what it is that one believes.


The natural desire to bond is found every where and in every person with very few exceptions. Sometimes troubles can arise and unspeakable acts are carried out because of certain groups, but the advantages associated seem to outweigh the costs. The groups that people form between themselves often serve as shelters for the lonely, for this reason it seems people will go to extreme measures to belong.


Release a lone sheep at the end of a pasture and he will run directly to the flock. Why? Because he feels vulnerable and weak when separated from the flock. Does the sheep care about the rest of the flock? Who can say? What the sheep does know is that being submerged in the flock, the wolf is less likely to focus on him specifically.


So goes the life of the American sheep, by conforming to the flock we obtain a feeling of safety and reduce the chances of being the one that the wolves pull down.