It’s probably the easiest time in history to find your tribe. Thanks to the magic of the internet, finding others who share our interest in juggling, the greatest bank robbers in history, or Star Trek/Star Wars crossover fanfiction requires just a few keystrokes.
This extends beyond the realm of our hobbies and into our values and political opinions. Concerned about climate change, inflation, minority rights, or free speech? There’s a group for that somewhere online. Not only that, but our social media profiles are full of memes and statements that signal our beliefs, allowing us to find others who are like-minded and avoid communication with those who aren’t.
The problem with like-minded people
It is refreshing to be heard and understood, to feel like you can be yourself, and to express your opinion without rejection or criticism. We naturally gravitate to spaces and people where we will be accepted. It’s healthy to form bonds and relationships based on our similarities.
But what happens when we only surround ourselves with like-minded people? The short answer is groupthink, and, when taken to the extreme, groupthink can lead to disaster.
The perils of groupthink
There are many well-known examples of the perils of groupthink, like the Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba, or the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle in 1986. In both cases, warning signs were overlooked, reservations were not expressed or were outright ignored, and people who should have known better moved ahead with dangerously bad ideas.
It’s easy to see groupthink in our ideological opposites. However, it’s much harder to confront the fact that our close relationships and associations may also contain the ingredients to blind us to the flaws in our thinking.
Groupthink and our communities
While it is unlikely that your community is preparing to invade a foreign country or launch a rocket into space, groupthink can still cause harm or impede progress close to home. The decisions we make about housing in our communities, how our schools are run, and how our businesses are regulated all have important stakes. If we enter these conversations identifying only with those in our tribe or knowing only their opinions, we risk serious errors that could negatively affect us or others in our community.
Bridge building begins with one relationship at a time
No one understands this better than our podcast guest this week, founder and CEO of The Village Square, Liz Joyner. Liz believes our relationships with each other across ideological differences are the foundation of our democracy. She’s spent the past 15 years working to facilitate a flourishing civil society in Tallahassee, Florida. Liz regularly holds events to bring the community together across differences to build trust and understanding.
You’ll hear her talk to us about how our democracy is designed to work because of our differences, not in spite of them. According to Liz, coming together to bridge divides is not about being on the same page, but about disagreeing well so that we can all help each other see our blind spots.
Our 5 links this week feature The Village Square and its model for supporting a healthy civil society in Tallahassee, and also delve deeper into groupthink: how it operates and how to avoid it in your own life. I hope you’ll be inspired to associate with more unlike-minded people and make our society stronger!
5 links worth your time
- How groupthink led to one of NASA’s worst disasters of all time.
- The real causes of—and how to avoid—groupthink.
- The Village Square uses disagreement and dialogue as a path to a better country.
- A linguistics expert explores ways that members of different tribes can start believing in each other again.
- What does building a multiracial democracy mean? Check out this episode of the Village SquareCast to learn what this Harvard professor has to say about it.
Photo by Dmytro on Adobe Stock