Struggling for Individualism in a Group Think World

It has always amazed me that people put so much faith in groups.  The entire corporate world is based on the idea that a team can do what the individual alone cannot.  Whether or not this is a good thing or a bad thing depends on your point of view of course, but it also depends on your personality.  As an introvert I can tell you exactly what goes through the mind of those who prefer the solitude of working alone to the chaos of group activities.  When I hear someone suggest a group activity my heart sinks because group work not only means that I’m going to have to do more work than I would if I were to take on this project alone but it also means that I have to put up with people that simply don’t care about the outcome.  I’d rather do more work and having nothing to do with other people than do less work and work with others.  This is just part of my personality.  I don’t want to work with others but people in the world say that it’s necessary and that ultimately it will be good for me.  Good for me how exactly?

Our world is one that has been put together by extroverts.  No introvert would ever believe this faulty notion that people’s best work comes when they are part of a team.  Talk to any artist, any CEO of a multi-national corporation even and they’ll tell you that their breakthrough moment didn’t come when they were working with others but when they were by themselves.  The reason for this is fairly simple.  When you’re with other people your mind has to not only deal with the task at hand but it also has to process how it will manage the other people that you have to deal with.  You simply aren’t able to focus all your attention on what you’re trying to accomplish.  There are also group dynamics that come into play.  Think John Nash and A Beautiful Mind (and not the ghosts of people that didn’t really exist) but his theory that we make choices in a group that we wouldn’t otherwise make.  Nash himself was an introverted person as most inventors, artists, and creative types are.  The most interesting part of Nash’s theory surrounding governing dynamics is that we are all motivated by something that cannot always be easily identified.  We do things in certain situations that simply don’t make any sense.

I want you to think about the corporate environment for a minute.  Remember when decisions were made in board rooms?  That’s where the expression “behind closed doors” comes from.  For most if not all of the twentieth century the dominant strain of thought regarding the most successful way to run a business was that you keep the really smart people who know what they’re doing together and try to come up with the most effective ways to keep your employees happy enough to keep working for you.  That’s a pretty decent business model if all you’re trying to do is to turn a profit.  Now, however, everyone thinks that they can be an innovator like Steve Jobs.  People look at the dot com bubble and the internet and see a society that is coming together over the internet and imagine that we could create communities like that at work as well.  This is entirely faulty logic.  The internet and social media are successful because we have a wall between us and other people.  That wall is the screen in front of us.  When you look at walls in an office building as a barrier to innovation you’re missing the point of the wall both metaphorically and in its actual purpose.  The wall isn’t a barrier to be broken down its part of the structure of the building.  It’s also designed to give people private space so that they can get things done.

The biggest problem with corporate America isn’t just that they are laggards without a soul (although that is the case for 99.9% of them.)  The big problem is that they don’t have a mission that transcends their business model.  Indeed most corporations believe that their mission statement and business model are the most important thing to their companies.  When you look back on the history of economic progress the world over the greatest times for companies and economies was when they had a shared purpose.  We don’t have that anymore.  We’re not fighting fascism or communism anymore.  Individual interests can’t be aligned toward a collective goal because no one understands what that goal should be.  The truly devastating effect of this is that corporations rule everything else in society.  Our education system is set up with a group think mindset.  If kids aren’t participating in class their teachers worry that something is wrong rather than thinking that maybe that kid is just processing information differently.  Our focus isn’t on turning out good people anymore it’s focused on turning out good employees.  The true measure of someone’s worth lies in what they value.  We cannot say that someone is or is not successful because they have a good career or have lots of friends or anything like that.  In fact, we shouldn’t judge people at all.  That is how our society is however.  We seek to judge people by what they cannot do as opposed to what they are capable of and that’s a huge problem.

The problem with America is not simply that we are so judgmental but that we are always looking for reasons to hate and never reasons to love.  The kind of moral dexterity that we have when it comes to our own individual values is astonishing.  Think of how many times you’ve used the phrase: “it is my belief” when describing your viewpoint about something.  What an arrogant way of looking at things.  When some of the crazy Christians start coming out of the woodwork saying that: “it is my belief that marriage is between a man and a woman” I want to scream.  You don’t give a damn about marriage; what you care about is your own feeling that you are morally superior to someone else and hey I get it.  It’s understandable that you would look for reasons to believe that you are exceptional and not simply average because we’ve been taught that being exceptional is what being an American is all about.

We’ve all had to write that inexorable essay on “American exceptionalism” at some point in our academic careers and it’s a ridiculous exercise in American arrogance and it’s one of the many reasons that we are hated around the world.  No one likes someone who thinks they’re better than everyone else which is why I think it’s so offensive that extroverts get to set the agenda when it comes to how I live my life.  If I don’t participate in society exactly when I’m supposed to and with the people that I’m supposed to interact with people judge me and say that I should stop being so selfish.  Think about how ridiculous it is to insist that everyone participate in the exact same mold of reality that is dictated to us by those who are identified by society as successful.  Keep in mind that what is success to one person is not necessarily success to another.  What I find to be most interesting of all is that we’re all extremists in one way or another.  We all believe that we’re right and that those who don’t think like us are wrong.  We wouldn’t engage in vicious arguments if we really respected one another.  There is a belief that lies within all of us that we understand something that someone else doesn’t and therefore we have an obligation to tell the world about it and fight for whatever that is.  Think about that for a second.  That’s what I’m doing right now.

What annoys me and I’m sure this annoys countless others is the inherent lack of freedom in a society where everything is dictated to you.  This is the one and perhaps only thing that I can empathize with Libertarians about.  I don’t want people telling me what to do, but what’s the alternative?  The answer is that there is no sensible alternative.  There never has been and never will be.  People will always engage in the us vs. them battle.  The more things that we can identify about ourselves the more we become disillusioned by the world around us.  There are extremists everywhere.  They exist on the left and they exist on the right.  They exist within extroverts and they exist within introverts.  There is no right or wrong when it comes to the extremes because both sides are wrong and it’s a futile fight no matter how you look at it.  Neither side is going to say that after decades of struggling with the other side that they are now wrong.  Despite over eighty years of social progress there are people who don’t believe in a social safety net.  FDR is still a controversial figure and John Maynard Keynes is considered by many on the right to be against free markets.  The entire debate in politics is an exercise in futility.  No one is going to change hearts and minds here.

The incredibly depressing part of embracing individuality however you define your individualism is that there are no clear answers.  There aren’t any clear answers in anything though.  There are mysteries in your life that you’ll never solve.  I think it makes sense to try and find happiness wherever and however you can find it.  If that means you have to go against the grain of popular thinking so be it.  Society is never going to embrace introverts because we don’t have the energy or the will to fight about everything and there are so many extroverts out there who would love nothing more than to get into a fight with you about something that is completely meaningless.  I’ve fought with them before about this and there is no way you can make any headway.  The best we can do is to accept our circumstances and come up with effective coping mechanisms.

As introverts we live inside our heads and that’s a huge advantage for us because we control all the power in there.  You can let society get to you or you can make the conscious choice that they’re not worth it.  You can fight against what’s considered to be socially acceptable or you can accept the fact that your definition may be different and anyone who cares about you isn’t going to fight you on that.  We make life difficult for ourselves by believing in absolutes.  We think that there has to be an absolute wrong and an absolute right when there is no way of proving either.  I always pity the idealists because I used to be one myself.  I used to think that there was a way that all could be made right in the world and then I set foot in the real world and realized that it’s pretty messed up.  What’s worse is that although you may find one or two people who will help you along the way if you are not an extrovert who wants to get to know everybody people are going to find reasons to hate you.  That’s just the way life is.

2 thoughts on “Struggling for Individualism in a Group Think World

  1. People are going to dictate their worldview on those who will listen and introverts will always listen so they will always be dictated to. Not saying it’s fair. It is what it is.

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