Is Herd Mentality A Thing?

Earlier this week, I wrote a blog post on cyberbullying and how mean people tend to be to each other online, and unfortunately, I guess it was all too soon based on the events that occurred over the last few days in my local area. Two of the local high schools this week experienced significant events of violence where large groups of students were found violently attacking another group of students in a vicious and videotaped occurrence. Some of this started on social media and online, and then trickled its way down to in person and with a variety of people.

Not only were knifes involved, and in one of the incidents one student being attacked by upwards of twenty individuals, but also actions such as punching each other in the face and stomping on heads were met with cheers and taunts from the crowds. Directions telling the students to hit the one on your left or punch him harder can be heard amongst the videos as directions from particular students made more targeted violent acts. And I am appalled. I am appalled at the level of violence that occurred, that not one person appears to have stepped in and that it took adults, specifically school administration and onsite police presence, too long to attend to the scene before things got out of control. However, more appalling to me, is how this happened in the first place.

 “Herd Mentality” is defined by Merriam-Webster as the tendency of the people in a group to think and behave in ways that conform with others in the group rather than individuals. In this case, I believe this is what happened. I could do a whole post on the ways in which the administration or police could have done better, but in reality that is not the bigger issue. The issue is why these events were even planned or implemented in the first place. Now, I do not know what started the fights. I do not know the underlying hostility or why there was a hatred towards one group, or individual, amongst the others. And, I do not know who started it or which of these students were the so-called leaders that led to this event in the first place. But, I do know, or at least have to believe, that these students and their atrocious behaviours cannot encompass our high school population as a whole.

Photo by Mauru00edcio Mascaro on Pexels.com

Firstly, I must preface this by saying that the events are still “under investigation” and there has been no confirmation of students actually being involved in this. Sure, okay. We aren’t dumb. We all know it was students. Also, it is known that not ALL the students were involved so I am definitely not painting every student with the same brush. A lot of the students, like me, are flabbergasted that this even happened and that their peers, or their friends even, acted in this way. However, I am asking the question as to why a group of young, intelligent individuals would participate in such violent actions.

Well, that is the big question regarding herd mentality. Now, I know that peer pressure exists, and we have all experienced it and for some of us, have gone along with it. I am generally someone who never adhered to peer pressure so the understanding of following the “group” is not something that I can understand personally. Yet, I have seen it happen with various people in my life. And yet, none of those peer pressure environments, or recommendations from peers, have led to such violent reactions. So, why are the students in these circumstances so different?

They aren’t. Most of the students involved in this weeks circumstances generally would not behave like this. They will all have their own challenges and successes just like the rest of us. They will have loved ones and friends and people in their life who support them and will be wondering why they have made such a heartbreaking decision. And, some of them will feel remorse and guilt for their actions. They may be asking themselves why they got involved in this event or question how things got so far out of hand.

And, yet some of those students will not. Some of those students enjoyed the violence and if given the chance would do it all over again. They will not have support or loved ones but rather only have their group of peers who are telling them this is what they need to be doing to fit in or to be seen as part of the crowd. Regardless of which way the kids involved in this event are leaning, they are not any different, in any way, then the rest of us.

Most of the adults watching these videos or hearing these stories will come back, in defence really, with the statement that the students are “young” and that they “do not know better.” That these students are different than us and none of us would ever be involved in something like that.  Sure, our youth are absolutely not fully developed yet and their ability to make rational or logical decisions can get skewed. However, the part of this that bothers me the most is that this is not only just happening with the students in my area, but it is happening with adults across the world too.

The attack on the U.S. Capitol in January of this year was mob mentality. The L.A. riots in 1992 or in Vancouver in 2011 were herd mentality. Or even the Travis Scott and Drake concert at Astroworld Festival in Houston, Texas just a few weeks ago. Just to name a few. Thousands of people, almost exclusively adults, engaged in violent, destructive behaviours in a way that left people injured, dead and hurt. We all watched it on television or read about it in books and may have questioned as to how this could have happened. How people from a variety of backgrounds, employment, or lifestyles could all participate in something so chaotic, so destructive and so unethical. Yet, it happens ALL the time. And from my point of view, it is seeming to happen more and more. Or maybe we are just seeing it more. Either way, the excuse we give these students does not work for adults, and in all honesty, it doesn’t work for these students either.

Violence is not okay.

Period. I do not care what excuse or reasoning or challenge you have in your life, none of it is a valid reason to hurt another person. And yet, rational, logical and kind people are participating in these incidents all the time. So what do we do?

Now, I am not stupid. I know that writing a blog post about what’s happening locally this week is not going to change anything worldwide. However, if anything, I just ask you, the reader, to consider the following (with help from Amy Morin):

Stop Being On Auto-pilot. Question what is happening, what you are seeing and do your own research. Make conscious decisions for yourself.

Make An Effort To Form Your Own Opinions. If you knew you needed to justify your actions, you would be more considerate of the actions you are taking. Be smart.

Take Time. When feeling pressure to hurry, people will make poorer decisions. Ask questions and take the time, even if seems like everyone else is making a quick decision. Their decisions may not be the best for you, so take the time to consider.

Be Aware Of Stress. When stressed, you are unable consider all angles so do not make decisions when in high levels of stress. High stress levels, or being distracted by life challenges, can lead to copycat actions. Recognise that risk.

Talk About It. When you see something like what happened with my area this week, or a bigger event on the news. Talk about it. Start those conversations with your colleagues, friends or family to discuss why and how people find themselves in these situations. Maybe having those discussions beforehand may help make those right decisions in the moment.

And Stand Up And Stand Out. Successful people do not make an impact when they go along with the crowd. Stand out and dare to do things differently. It is always better to be known as the lone wolf than a pack member. Over time, your ability to make decisions for yourself will allow you to feel more honest for you and the choices you end up making.

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak;courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen. “

-Winston Churchill

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