I was reading a very interesting article the other day about group behaviour. People often say, and I’ve thought it myself sometimes, ‘What can I really do to make a difference? I am only one person – surely my tiny contribution to recycling/buying organic food/not buying my clothes from Primark isn’t enough to have any worthwhile impact on the world?’ It is quite easy to be demotivated by this way of thinking, especially when you see photos of landfill sites, or even just take off in an aeroplane and notice how everyone looks like ants within seconds.
To paraphrase a famous quote, ‘It only takes one candle to light a dark room’, and I think it’s worth remembering when you’re feeling a bit disheartened about the worth or impact of your own contribution. Imagine if everyone decided not to bother with recycling, or buying fair trade, or shopping for organic produce – thousands of people’s lives would be very different and not for the better.
A study at Leeds university got 200 people to walk in random directions around a room, never moving more than an arm’s length from someone else. Ten of the group had secretly received instructions on exactly where they should walk, and after only a few minutes, all 200 people were walking in the same direction. All without a single word being spoken and no instruction that anyone should follow anyone else. When you think about it, animals take collective decisions without any verbal communication – think of flocks of birds flying south, or herds of cattle at milking time – so why should humans be any different? There is safety in numbers and there is also the potential to change things.
The ten people who changed the direction of the 190 others were 5% of that group. If 5% of us made a commitment to changing our behaviour towards our environment and our fellow man, think what could be achieved!
Which reminds me, I must take the recycling bin out.