Spread the Word!

Can you change the world?

Any time when people try to accomplish something we consciously, or unconsciously, enter one of two groups: the majority or the minority. These groups can be close to even (let’s say political parties) or grave opposites in size (members of a elite club). Usually we join the group that will help our needs get satisfied the quickest or most effectively. Those needs can be anything from getting a bike fixed, to pushing forward legislature. Others join “anti” groups, which strive to break down larger groups. However as we have seen with the “Hipster” movement nothing can stay in the pseudo-anarchy mindset for long before becoming what it doesn’t want to be (See: Punk).

However that doesn’t mean that you have to join a large group to get something done, nor do you have to consciously oppose it. With the rise of the NGO-age it is becoming increasingly plausible for people to find a cause or organization that is small, streamlined, and tailored to fit their personal ideals. People are more drawn now by connection to ideology and hope, sometimes in contrast to satisfying their own needs. (See: overworked intern)

These NGOs—which are a symbol of individual pro-social acts—are beginning to become so prevalent in society though that their effect on actual problems are getting diluted. As a college student it seems awfully distressing that these organizations that are intended for good have proven the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility. Take Ghana for example; in 2004 there were 3000 separate NGOs within the country. Now as of 2010 there were 4,900 NGOs—Approximately 1 for every 5000 Ghanaians—an increase of almost 2,000 NGOs in just under 6 years. Are all these helping or gradually hurting developing Ghana? One cannot be sure, but Ghana is no different than that of the global trend. Just the tip of the iceberg. (See: photo of iceberg)

“So what’s next?” This is not the end all.

As virtuous NGOs set out to be they aren’t the best way to help the world it seems. A level of saturation has weakened each’s social influence to relatively comical low level, as in the case of Ghana. I some ways it has become common to “good conscious” causes, and saying you have done your part.

It’s all too easy! Donating NGOs and conforming to the majority are great ways to make you feel good about yourself but have relatively little affect on the world. In any situation passively taking sides will not dramatically effect your life. So the idea is to not be passive, not conform, and take a side that you believe in. How will this affect anyone though?

In the early 1980’s Serge Moscovici did a study on human social influence, specifically how a minority can influence a majority. The creation of this ideology is aptly named Minority Influence. In Moscovici’s initial studies he took 4 subjects and put them in a room with 2 confederates to the study. The 4 subjects believed that the 2 confederates were subjects as well. With 6 people in the room Moscovici put a color splotch at the end of the room so all of them could see it. After a moment he asked them what the color was. The color was blatantly Blue-Green or Teal, but the confederates (a Minority) assured everyone it was green. After discussion, many trials it was seen that the subject agreed with the minority 32% of the time, which is a significant amount when extrapolated to larger society.

What he is showing here that when the minority can overcome normative social influence (the desire to be liked), and utilize informational social influence (the desire to be right) against the majority it can break up the majorities confidence and even agree to absurd suggestions. (Think: the world being round, evolution) In this case even what would normally be an obvious answer is called to scrutiny, providing uncertainty and options. (See: 12 Angry Men)

Moscovici, as well as Nemeth, conclude on the point that most crucial factor in a minority influencing the majority is confidence and consistency. If the minority falters, loses its argument, or changes directions at any time than the crate of agreement immediately dropped down to 6% for all groups. Consistency is the key, and confidence is the handle.

Moscovici and others who have studied minority influence have referred to this process as that of “innovation” as opposed to “conformity” when agreeing with the majority. True innovation arises out of a majority of thinkers gradually shifting to a viewpoint more obscure or more modern. All new ideas have been challenged like in his study but real world cases (unlike the study) theories aren’t so black and white. A consistent approach to a new idea that doesn’t falter, and that doesn’t (ever) question your confidence will spread. In the right field this could be world-changing innovation.

So when you begin to think that there is no way to go about changing the world, that all NGOs are taken or absurd, that styles and ideas are so overwhelming that there isn’t a way to get hold; think to yourself what it is that you can push forward and why you want to. Because if you can find that “something” that makes you tick, and act upon it by convincing one or two others to be just as confident, then something is bound to happen, because that is where true innovation lies.

Subtly at first, then more explicitly, you will spread the word.


Note: With all this said, I want to be clear that I don’t disagree with the NGOs and their purpose, most are doing phenomenal work and helping those who are forgotten by the government. What I am disagreeing with is their over abundance in creation which is slowly making the NGOs that do count less dynamic.