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Key Idea #10: Humans Are Naturally Sociocentric Animals

Not only are humans naturally egocentric but we are also easily drawn into sociocentric thinking and behavior. Groups offer us security to the extent that we internalize and unthinkingly conform to their rules, imperatives, and taboos. Growing up, we learn to conform to many groups. Peer groups especially tend to dominate our life. Our unconscious acceptance of the values of the group leads to the unconscious standard: "It's true if we believe it." There seems to be no belief so absurd but that some group of humans irrationally accepts it as rational.

Not only do we accept the belief systems of the groups to which we belong, but also most important, we act on those belief systems. For example, many groups are anti-intellectual in nature. Groups may expect its members to adhere to any number of dysfunctional behaviors. For example, some youth groups expect members to abuse outsiders verbally and physically (as proof of power or courage). And some groups who share lunch together during the workweek engage in malicious gossip about others in the same work place.

In addition to face-to-face groups we are in, we are influenced indirectly by large-scale social forces that reflect our membership in society at large. For example, in capitalist societies, the dominant thinking is that people should strive to make as much money as possible, though this form of thinking, it might be argued, encourages people to accept a large gap between the haves and have-nots as right and normal.

Or consider this: Within mass societies the nature and solution to most public issues and problems are presented in sensationalized sound-bytes by the news media. As a result, people often come to think about complex problems in terms of simplistic media-fostered solutions. Many people are led to believe that expressions such as "Get tough with criminals!" and "Three strikes and you're out!" represent plausible ways to deal with complex social problems.

What is more, the portrayal of life in Hollywood movies exerts a significant influence on how we conceptualize our problems, our lives, and ourselves. Sociocentric influences are at work at every level of social life in both subtle and blatant ways. There are many socio-centric forces in society.

Strategic Idea

Humans are naturally sociocentric. We must take possession of the idea that, because we are all members of social groups, our behavior reflects the imperatives and taboos of the groups to which we belong. We all, to a greater or lesser degree, uncritically conform to the rules and expectations of the groups of which we are members. When we recognize this, we can begin to analyze and assess that to which we conform. We can actively analyze the rules and taboos of our peer groups and those we are aligned with. We can rationally think through the groups' expectations to determine the extent to which they are reasonable.

When we identify irrational expectations, we can refuse to adhere to those requirements. We can shift our group memberships from those that are flagrantly irrational to those that are more rational. Indeed, we can actively create new groups, groups that emphasize the importance of integrity and fair-mindedness, groups that encourage their members to develop independence of thought and work together in that pursuit.

Test the Idea
Recognizing Problems in Sociocentric Thinking

Identify a group to which you belong. It can be a small group of colleagues at work, friends, a club, a religious group, or a large non-face-to-face cultural group of which you are a part. Complete the following statements:

  1. The group I am focused on is...

  2. The taboos or behaviors not allowed within the group are...

  3. The injunctions or requirements are...

  4. In analyzing my behavior in this group, I realize ... about myself.

  5. After analyzing this group's taboos and injunctions, I think it is/is not in my interest to be involved in this group, for these reasons...

Or we can minimize the groups we belong to - except for the social groups we cannot escape. With respect to the large-scale socio-centric influences to which we are subjected by the mass media, we can develop an ongoing critical sensitivity that minimizes our falling prey to group influences. In short, by understanding our personal relationship to socio-centric thinking, we can begin to take charge of the influence that groups have over us. We can significantly reduce that influence

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