As I enjoyed my coffee, alone with my thoughts, I noticed there were cars well behind me and some a good distance in front. Like most people I don't quite adhere to the speed limit so I was going about 70 mph in a 65 mph zone. The further I drove the more I noticed the cars behind me continuing to gain on me until all of a sudden I was surrounded by cars.
Despite knowing the speed limit many of us don't adhere to it and a big reason we don't is because we observe so many others not obeying the law. And, sometimes in doing so we find ourselves doing things we might not do in the absence of other people. Case in point, I was perfectly content with my 70 mph speed until other cars surrounded me traveling much faster. It wasn't even a conscious choice to speed up but before I knew it I had.
This applies to much more than just the highway. You might be reading this feeling a bit of pride because you don't change your driving habits based on the habits of other drivers but there are many ways consensus might be at work on you:
- Do you stand during standing ovations...even when you didn't like the performance? Most people do.
- Does your dress conform to those around you? If you doubt it just look at some old photos and you might be hit with this thought, "What was I thinking when I wore that outfit?"
- Have you ever tried a restaurant dish because, "It's our most popular menu item"? Part of reason the dish remains so popular is that little phrase used by the server.
- If you've had a question have you ever held it until a few others asked questions first? It's amazing how group dynamics change after one person breaks the ice.
This isn't a bad thing. In fact, most of the time following the actions of others has very good consequences for us. We feel a sense of belonging, we are more readily accepted into groups and we avoid conflict. However, there are times when it can lead us astray and have very bad consequences.
- Excessive speeding can be dangerous to us and others.
- For teens, wanting to fit in can lead to bad choices when it comes to drinking, drugs and sex.
- Following the crowd at work because "everybody does it" can cost you your job.