When “Everybody’s Doing It” Becomes a Common Refrain

by Heather on October 8, 2010 · 22 comments

Group think. We’ve all fallen prey to it, and I’m pretty positive that no one is completely immune to it. If we’re part of a group, we tend to think of things the way the other members in the group do. Certain things that are completely normal, perfectly acceptable, and even expected of us in one group might be completely bizarre in another.

In college, I was part of the Greek system. I loved my sorority, but I was also a part of several other groups at the university which had much different aims and sets of values, like Project Community, my women’s studies program, and my a cappella group (yes, I was THAT cool).  When I first joined the house, I thought some of it was a little weird.  Going out on a Tuesday like it was a Friday?  Don’t you all have class? Making it a priority to get to Chi Phi’s frat party?  But I have rehearsal!  And ugh, frat boys. Including a Northface, Vera Bradley bag, and the side pony on your list of must-haves? What’s wrong with my backpack and hoodie? (Confession: I still love the side pony, so I can’t really say anything about that one.)

However, after I had been in the Greek system for long enough, the behaviors that initially made me feel like my sisters had their priorities out of whack seemed totally normal to me. Did I engage in ALL the things I first thought were silly? No, but I did accept my friends who did, and I ended up buying the ubiquitous quilted bag, kissing a few frat guys, and going to a few mid-week date parties. (Taking buses to Detroit to get drunk off campus still strikes me as odd, but that’s beside the point.)

Similarly, when I first joined the health blogging community, I thought it was so weird that people would take pictures of their salmon and asparagus at fancy restaurants or their green smoothies while rushing out the door to work. How did they make time for this? And how did they explain why they’re whipping out their cameras at candlelit dinners? People who wrote down their mileage or tracked their calories burned seemed obsessive to me (I had once been the exact same way, but with no online record, and it wasn’t a time in my life that was the good kind of healthy).  I love to work out too, but sheesh! How did they find time to work out for two hours every day? Did they not have jobs?

And then, just like in Greek life, I somehow found myself end my thinking that these women were crazy. Why? Because I was a part of the group.  I had immersed myself in it. I read about it on multiple blogs daily and I even started my own blog! While I didn’t track my food or calories burned for the world to see, I didn’t think it was so weird anymore that they did.

Now it’s not that anyone in the group is necessarily trying to influence others to do the things they do and talk they way they talk. If we joined the group initially, we probably had thoughts similar to them to begin with, right? That’s the thing about group think — if we are joining a group and suddenly find ourselves agreeing with a lot of their ideals that we might not have before, couldn’t it also be that we had similar values to begin with? Why would we join a group of people with which we had nothing in common? We wouldn’t. We joined the group because there was some common factor, no matter how big or small it might have been. I joined my sorority because I love being social, and because my best friends have always been girls. Did I disagree with the stereotype of sorostitutes drinking until they puked four nights a week? Sure, but I didn’t disagree with all of the other ladies who had joined the house because they thought sisterhood and the networking it could provide was valuable indeed. When I first started blogging, or even reading health blogs, did I think some people were a little extreme? Of course, but I also realized the benefit to keeping yourself accountable, sharing fitness and nutrition tidbits, and networking with people who had similar goals.

Here’s what it comes down to: group thinking can be a good thing and a bad thing. A blessing and a curse. A double-edged sword. Either way, we need to be aware of it, and realize when we are caught up in it. Thinking alike because we’re all trying to achieve an admirable, common goal is a great thing. But when we start taking on a ton of new qualities — we can only shop at Whole Foods, we can only eat almond butter and shun peanut, or we think it’s time we took up distance running — we can forget that there was a time in our lives when we were just girls trying to be healthy and not “healthy living bloggers.” We each need to take a moment to step back from the group and think for ourselves. Would the pre-health blogger (or even health blog reader) be proud of who you’ve become? Has your view of “normal” behavior become seriously skewed? It applies to sororities getting crazy over winning Greek Week or bloggers trying to achieve the — nonexistent — perfect body or ideal image of health.

No matter what, group think will seep into our groups. And to make sure it’s not hurting us or our friends, we should frequently step back and ask questions.

Do you think we tend to fall prey to group thinking in the health blogging community?  Or are we pretty good at thinking for ourselves?  How can we make sure we stay away from the kind of group thinking that could be damaging to the community?

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