Last night we watched the documentary Jonestown: The Life and Death of the People’s Temple. For those of you who don’t know, this is the true story of Jim Jones and the largest single loss of American life in a non-natural disaster (until the incidents of September 11th). More than 900 people died by drinking cyanide-laced kool-aid. The story is completely insane – and it baffles my mind.

The film led to a discussion about groupthink – and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it all day. It gives me chills to think about the atrocities that can (and have) occurred because of it. I can’t begin to understand it. How can people so fully lose their sense of self and surrender their lives to someone or something?

It’s easy to condemn and judge others for their lack of character and strength in these situations, but to a certain extent, we all fall victim to groupthink at one point or another. Groups are very powerful and have been proven to have huge influences on individuals (mob rule, social conformity, band wagon effect, group polarization, etc.). Of course, the People’s Temple suicide/murder is a very extreme example of groupthink, but lesser examples exist all around us: peer pressure, religion, politics, gangs, etc. Did you ever sit idle while someone else was being unfairly harassed or teased? Have you ever withheld your opinion because you knew it was different from everyone else’s in the room? Do you believe in every doctrine your church preaches? Do you emulate popular fashions?  Are you obsessed with Oprah? All forms of groupthink.

Groupthink – it’s a freaky thing. Why are some people more susceptible than others? How can some of us distinguish relatively harmless groupthink versus damning and destructive groupthink? Or maybe there is no such thing as harmless groupthink.  I’m not sure.

If you haven’t seen the documentary, it’s pretty good. That Jim Jones was a nut case!

2 Responses to “groupthink.”

  1. 1 Elisabeth
    April 15, 2009 at 8:45 am

    Oh my gosh. Not that long ago I saw the People’s Temple documentary, and I honestly couldn’t stop thinking about it for days. It was truly chilling. Your comments about groupthink are really interesting… I don’t know if there really is such a thing as harmless groupthink. Unfortunately, history provides us with countless examples of the dangerous kind. It is amazing what people will do when they know that there are others who will support them.
    I am so glad that someone else was as affected by that documentary as I was. Super creepy.

  2. May 17, 2013 at 4:25 am

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