A circus joker does crazy acts with the crowd laughing and cheering him on. When a person breaks the social norms on the streets, the public considers him crazy. If he is sane and rational he will get back to normal socially acceptable behavior in no time. The response of the crowd gives feedback on the appropriateness of the act.
Similarly, when a person behaves unethically or inappropriately, the encouragement and support he receives from the crowd determines how far he will go. The crowd’s reaction decides the extent of the crime, however, the crowd is never held responsible, and the individual is.
Notice the current trend. Pop divas dance nude in videos. It is naked dance of vulgarity and obscenity, passed off as art. Obviously, singers don’t sound melodious with their clothes on! Audiences react in three ways. Some relish it and indulge their baser instincts. Most have become desensitized to it and stopped questioning it. Lastly, a few consider it vulgar and avoid it. If the last category diminishes, soon only the so-called unsophisticated will sing and dance clothed. So how does one affix responsibility of the crowd?
Let us consider another example. A man is standing on the top of a cliff, planning to jump into a river flowing 100 feet below. There is a group spurring him on, saying – “Bravo man, do it.” Two of his friends hold on two his sleeve and say – “Man, don’t do it, not worth the risk.” The man thinks his two friends were spoil sports, while others were actually his friends. He never thought that there might be people in the supporting group, wishing him dead or laughing at him. The man in the heightened state of excitement, with adrenaline flowing high leaps into the river and dies. Now will the legal system define this as murder?
It applies in the business scenario too. CEOs get top billings for churning out high growth numbers. The media praises them sky-high without delving deeply into the methods used to achieve the numbers. The employees, investors and public drive the CEOs to take bigger and bigger risks, bend more rules, be more inhuman. The CEOs see the crowds rooting for another and want the same accolade. Cheating, breaking the law, doing unethical activities seem a small price to pay to get public honour and acknowledgement. . No one stops him, tells him that he is doing something wrong; he only sees ardent admiration. Then the bubble bursts, the CEO is caught and the public vanishes overnight. The employees, media, public, and investors escape with no responsibility for motivating a person to behave unethically. The CEO spends time in prison. Should the legal system prosecute the crowd?
The power of the crowd is incredible. The support of the crowd decides the course of history, good and bad, be it Indian independence struggle or the holocaust. The decision of the crowd is based on culture and values of the society or organization. The crowd without good cultural and ethical values will probably support wrong things. As Confucius says: –
“Guide them with policies and align them with punishments and the people will evade them and have no shame. Guide them with virtue (de) and align them with culture and the people will have a sense of shame and fulfill their roles.”
From industrial age, organizations focus on the western concept of putting processes and procedures in place. The mechanism for compliance is reward and punishment systems. Just a few organizations have invested in building a good organization culture on ethical values. It holds true for families. Parents manipulate a child’s behavior through reward and punishment, without teaching core values. Without the education to build the moral compass within the organization and in the society, people cannot be expected to support the right causes and actions. Hence, one can opine that the crowd is blameless because they know no better.
This argument can be further propagated by the current state of social values. Every person is striving to be recognized, by whatever means possible. Paris Hilton gets more coverage in media than all sages in India. The problem is that people cannot recognize true merit in others and are obsessed about others acknowledging their merit. It is a situation of ‘garbage in, garbage out’ in human thoughts. Hence, education becomes the key to change the voice of the crowd.
Replace obedience as a virtue with critical thinking in raising children, establishing cultural values in society and organizations. Obedience hampers the ability to differentiate between right and wrong. It develops traits to go along with the crowd rather than stand apart and hold ground. Critical thinking must become a mandatory course in schools, colleges, and organizations. Focus on it, and the crowd will start making better decisions in all aspects of life.