I was watching Derren Brown's show last week in which he was experimenting with social compliance. Basically he used people's willingness to go along with things to get them to a point where they chose (but in an inner-conflicted way) to push someone to their death.
It was compelling, if somewhat disturbing, viewing and proved an interesting point. We, you and I, humans everywhere, are susceptible to being influenced by what we think is expected of us, by peer pressure. We know it and we maybe think we deal with it okay and wouldn't be pushed too far. If you're in the UK you can watch the whole programme here.
This show tends to imply that's not true. 3 out of 4 subjects in the experiment went along with what was asked of them and pushed the (stunt)man off the roof of a building. All a little depressing since I can imagine they are reasonably representative of the population at large and, hoping for a sound moral core, I'd like to think we are better than that. It does tend to ratify the related idea that a lot of people would commit a crime if there were no consequences for themselves. Worrying.
But back to the programme which I said promoted growth. the bit I really liked was at the end, after three 'murders' had been committed, listening to the accuseds talking about how they would be dialling up their watchfulness and taking more control of their own lives. I like it when people aim for this and not the slough of lazily being controlled by someone else. Derren Brown was spoken of in terms of 'manipulation' and one tweet suggested how powerful he could be if he used his powers for evil, but I suspect there are already lots more nameless folks out there already doing just that. What else is marketing other than a (not always) subtle attempt to change how you think and therefore what you do? How many CEOs would like to be able to manipulate us to behave in a profit-making way for their companies?
Maybe like the Push3, we should take a long hard look at why we do the things that we do. How many of our actions are initiated because of deliberate desire, because it matches what is important to us and the way we live our lives - namely, our values? Where can we recognise that other people are pulling the strings, not always to our advantage? What are we doing that we are not proud of or not happy with?
Once we have identified external controls in our life, how can we cut them out? Questions to consider would include:
Even with all the questions you might be struggling to nail down what the issue is - you just know you are unhappy with the way you are behaving. If that's the case, and the suggestions on the flowchart download have still not helped, then get in touch to talk things through and if I can help you with some coaching then we can work together on whatever is bugging you.
So I walked into an informal networking meeting this morning and comments were made about my relaxed dress sense. It seems like there's always comments. Anyway. today I made some riposte about not meeting anyone so that I didn't have to dress up and someone pointedly looked around at the rest of the people stood there. Oops.
It got me thinking though about when and why we dress the way we do. Is it about us, or the people we're going to meet? And should we be different on the outside if we are still the same on the inside - is there an authenticity issue? As I travelled home on the train I processed some thoughts as follows.
Some of it is about us. We need to dress with authenticity, to match who we are inside. If I was quiet and shy (although you know that I'm not really) and always dressed in flamboyant clothes that attracted attention that wouldn't be good - I would be giving a false impression. More than that though, I would probably not be wearing the clothes with confidence and so they very obviously wouldn't suit me, even if the colours were perfect to match my eyes, hair etc..
I was at a wedding recently with a load of kilt virgins. Some of them did not look comfortable at all because it was so foreign to them, and it showed, not least in the way they sat. But the groom had said that they had to ush in tartan and so they did it for him.
Some of it is about the people in front of us. There is an element in which we show respect for people in the way that we dress up in their presence. Perhaps too, like on a date or an interview, we want to show others our best side. I have also found though that it is about moulding the impression someone else has of you and your credibility. This is particularly important when I am teaching, training or preaching - if your listeners don't believe in your competence then they won't learn - and like it or not, we don't listen as closely to scruffy people in smarter settings.
A lot of it however is about fitting in to the environment. We talked this morning about dressing for the weather but more often the environment idea is actually connected to other people's perceptions. If I expect a room to be filled with people in suits, I will probably wear a suit too, if I want them to accept me as one of them. Does this make me dishonest? No, I don't think so because I am simply dressing in a way that I feel is an appropriate expression of who I am inside.
I was reminiscing the other day about having spent a week working at an outdoor centre dressed in a suit. It was inappropriate to the setting but okay because as a staff team we were all having fun together which matched who we were
I think it is a bit like personality - we have stuff inside us that is shown in different types of behaviour in a variety of settings. If I am at business event I will be dressed differently to a coaching walk, Likewise, I don't behave in the same way at home that I would in a formal setting somewhere like Buckingham Palace. Nor do I interact the same way with my parents and teenagers in a youthwork context. It just wouldn't work and folks wouldn't hear any messages I tried to communicate.
In a similar way, how we dress will enhance or obstruct our messages. It might be 'you can trust me because I am just like you', or alternatively 'look at me I'm different and zany and might challenge you'. Whatever our clothing says about us and others, is it a conscious message? Do we dress deliberately often enough? Or do we actually spend too much time thinking about what to wear? Whichever it is, what we choose to put on can tell us a lot about what we think of ourselves, how we feel about the people we might meet and what impression we want to be giving.
I know I have got smarter and cleaner in the way I clothe myself since I moved to Glasgow, much to my wife's delight, but I still need to ponder what I wear and what it means to me, as well as what it says about me. So this weekend, I'll mainly be wearing a Glasgow Warriors top (as well as my woollen horned helmet, courtesy of Pauline at Sea Drift Argyll https://www.facebook.com/seadriftargyll/) and a kilt (for a ceilidh at Bishopbriggs Community Church). What will you have on?
I've just watched a video of an old guy who made a difference by not holding a door open. In fact by holding it shut he ended up being congratulated by people in the street.
It seems he noticed that there was a robbery taking place in a shop in Salford and so all he did was hold the door closed to prevent the robber escaping. He was then joined by another elderly gent and together they barricaded the baddie inside. Simple. Not much skill or effort required. Not even a huge amount of strength. Simply the ability to notice an opportunity to make a difference AND THEN ACT ON IT.
Maybe there are too many people who never see the chance to do something but I suspect there are more that see the opening and then ignore it. Or are scared to get involved. Or as in the bystander effect, assume someone else will do something.
I was reading recently about the murder of Kitty Genovese in 1964 when lots of people saw it happening and no-one did anything. Since then there has been lots of experimentation on how people react to situations when they are alone, versus being with others. Everyone can see smoke and has the intelligence to think 'no smoke without fire' but will be paralysed into inaction by other people in the room. On their own they all do something.
It seems that most folk check out other people's reactions to gauge the seriousness of a situation; 'If others appear unmoved then it can't be that serious, right?'
If they are alone though they will assess how deserving a victim is for their help as well as their ability to provide it. From there they will go on to consider what assistance to provide, directly or just by phoning the emergency services and then implement it.
But for a lot of people the noticing is the issue because in groups we all tend to keep our attention to ourselves and so never notice what's happening. We need to be more aware of our surroundings, in order to observe the openings for action but also for the benefits it provides for us (see all the abundance of current chat about mindfulness).
Maybe then we will start holding more doors shut.
You might have missed it. The sporting event of the summer has been and gone leaving only memories for some of us. I'm not referring to AJG Parcels Celtic Society Cup when Kyles Athletic came from 2-1 down to win 6-2 against Inverary, exciting as that was. Nor am I meaning the summer rugby tours, Andy M going out of Wimbledon, or even the wee football event that happened across in Brazil.
Instead, as a Glasgow-dweller, the BIG event has been the recently-departed Commonwealth Games. Everywhere you went there were crowds of excited and happy people, many of them carrying saltires and wearing blue for Team Scotland. On a couple of occasions I joined them, at least in the 'happy' bit, coming back early from holiday to watch a session of rugby and one of gymnastics. If I'm honest the latter was more Lindsay's choice than mine but I was interested to watch the men on the rings, particularly looking forward to the crucifixes, particularly the horizontal version. As for the rugby, it was going to be an extension of the Glasgow 7s in May, topping up my fix until the Glasgow Warriors season starts again next month.
Spectating at the Hydro was a good experience - everything was laid out in front of you and the rings was the nearest apparatus. Disappointingly, the teams competing during our session were not of the highest calibre and the performances were a little lack-lustre - only one vertical crucifix attempted. I didn't go to watch people falling on to their face off the asymmetric bars or toppling outside the designated area on the floor. I wanted to see excellence, in strength and style. I hoped to be amazed at the exploits of people I didn't know who hailed from countries far away and came away a little underwhelmed.
It made me consider my role. The Scottish ladies were competing that day and their support was specific and vocal, roaring the competitors on by name; proud family members displaying each gymnasts moniker on every square inch of clothing. That was not me though. Other non-relatives were happy to voice their allegiance with Team Scotland or give friendly encouragement to other nations, the cries of 'U-Gan-Da' ringing round Ibrox being a notable example. I, on the other hand, simply wanted to see sportsmen and women being brilliant, to be inspired, awestruck even, by what is possible by people at their peak.
Are we granted the privilege of a ticket on the basis that we fulfil a responsibility to cheer and provide an extra boost for our team? Al Kellock at the Warriors often references the boost that 'the XVIth warrior' i.e. the crowd, provides at Scotstoun and whilst I am delighted to be there and to shout myself hoarse, I suspect I am doing it for me, not for them. That the team benefits from my noise is incidental; I spectate, to be impressed or excited, and to be taken on an emotional journey that may involve the cathartic release of decibels.
Does that make me a bad supporter? Certainly at times wandering around the venues, I felt insufficiently saltired, as if my nationalistic pride was debatable. I even cheered the competition at times when they performed especially well. At the friendly games though, I think I got away with it. Back at Scotstoun for the Guinness PRO12, I may need to consider my role.
It was the Golden Globes awards ceremony last night and, if you hadn't heard, one of the bigger winners, as expected, was The Artist.
I haven't seen it yet, Dunoon being blessed with an improved but not yet multiplex cinema, but am keen to. It doen't fit my normal viewing genres but it must be a good film and therefore worth a look.
As I considered it though, a few questions came to mind that apply to us and our lives. The Artist seems to be good because it's different - black and white films are not in abundance at the moment and silent films are even less common. Maybe though its good and its different - I won't know until I've seen it. The question is, did it win the awards because its different and has it been made it different deliberately to win an award. Reading about the director, I suspect he set out to make a different film because that's what he enjoys - the fact that it is successful is probably a nice bonus though.
What about us - do we deliberately do things in order to win awards, the acclaim of the crowds or the commendation of our boss? Alternatively, are we working to produce our best because it brings us satisfaction - if we get a pat on the back then its a nice extra? How often do we focus on the praise that we'll get from someone else? A frequently asked question of mine is, 'How do you know you have been successful?' - we need to be able to determine it for ourselves rather than waiting for an external person or body giving us the big thumbs up.
And what about being different - so much of society now is very monochrome, with everyone looking like everyone else and if they don't, then simply trying harder to. People want to fit in and think that the way forward is to be identical. As I write this I think of the magazines where they show you what the stars wear and then give you the cheap alternatives so you can almost exactly copy them. Great, if I want to follow, but what if I want to stand out, be different, lead the way?
It seems the truly successful people in this life are those with the courage to go their own way, no matter where other people are going and to be content with that path, whether it wins plaudits or not. Doing what you want to do, as well as you can, brings its own rewards.
Ben Nevis tourist path
Following the crowd
I was walking up Ben Nevis at the weekend, using the tourist track for the first bit of the walk in order to access the north side of the mountain. Now, admittedly it was the height of summer, but I was absolutely amazed at the steady stream of people all wandering upwards; a wide variety of people, with a huge differentiation in preparedness amongst them. Some appeared to be ready for anything, others were out for an afternoon stroll; there were families, couples, solos, 3-peakers, tourists - everyone seemed to be on the Ben.
But they were all following the same path. Admittedly it is the easiest way to the top of Britain's tallest hill, but the thought of trudging (and thats a gracious way of describing the gait of some) in someone else's footsteps all the way to 1344m doesn't really appeal to me. I love the quote from Robert Frost about the two roads that diverged in a yellow wood: "I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference".It inspires me to find my own path through life as well as on the hillside.
Taking our own route
Now, taking our own route made things a little trickier, but still achievable - you can see a little section of our day in the video below. Its debatable whether we had a greater feeling of achievement than the folks clambering on top of the cairn but I suspect we enjoyed the route more than the puggled people forcing themselves a step further with each breath. Instead we shared the ridge with only one other couple and had a few hours of very peacefu, pleasant scrambling. All because we chose to take our own route away from the crowds.
Are you still trudging along with the rest of them? Maybe its not on a montain path. What about in your work? Perhaps in the things you believe? Possibly in the opinions you have read and absorbed from a newspaper.
Now I'm not saying that any of these are wrong; what bothers me though is so many people doing the same old same old, simply because 'thats the way its always been done'. Test it, check it, is it still the best way to do something? I talked to a colleague today who said he had recently been asked in interview 'what have you changed recently and what difference has it made?' Maybe we all ought to ask ourselves that.
What things will you question today in order to find your own unique path?
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Nick has been writing for mass consumption ever since he was sending newsletters home from the Philippines 20+ years ago. He has carried on putting finger to keyboard, branching out into magazines, manuals and recently submitting lots of words for books. He has always aimed to be entertaining but at the same time challenging. If you like something, feel free to pass it on to someone else, but if you are challenged by it then even better - write a comment, start a debate, add to the fun.