Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 11, Issue 45;   November 9, 2011: Good Change, Bad Change: II

Good Change, Bad Change: II

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When we distinguish good change from bad, we often get it wrong: we favor things that would harm us, and shun things that would help. When we do get it wrong, we're sometimes misled by social factors.
Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site in Yonkers, New York

Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site in Yonkers, New York. It was the city hall of the city of Yonkers from 1872 until 1908. The oldest part of the hall was built around 1682 by Frederick Philipse, a Dutch-born carpenter and trader who eventually accumulated a 52,000-acre estate that included much of what is now Yonkers and Westchester County. His grandson, Frederick Phillipse III, was still enormously wealthy at the time of the American Revolution. He chose the Loyalist side, and after arrest and parole, he eventually fled to England.

Loyalists generally were compelled by events to wrestle with may of the issues described here, and more. Many had long-established familial, social, and business links to Britain. Many were alienated by the Patriots' violent tactics. And many had sustained or feared they would sustain economic losses if the Revolution succeeded. Read more about how Loyalists made their choices in a fascinating study, "Choosing Sides: A Quantitative Study of the Personality Determinants of Loyalist and Revolutionary Political Affiliation in New York," by N. E. H. Hull, Peter C. Hoffer and Steven L. Allen, in The Journal of American History, Vol. 65, No. 2 (Sep., 1978), pp. 344-366.

In the first part of this discussion, we explored two factors that can distort our assessment of the goodness of a change — circumstantial complexity and superficial simplicity. Let's now explore three social factors that can lead us to misjudgments just as significant.

Aversion to coercion
Some changes are thrust upon us. When the agent of change is another person, or a group of people, some of us experience resentment of the change agent. We sense the limits of our autonomy, and instead of focusing on the larger problem of expanding our freedom, or accepting and understanding its limits, we vilify the change agent.
When we perceive that the change agent benefits from the change they've thrust upon us, this vilification can be especially intense. We question the change agent's motives, or we focus on the supposed malevolence of the change agent. We don't really try to understand the change or assess it objectively.
Attraction to charisma
In some instances, when we regard the agents of change with affection, respect, or awe, our feelings for them can overwhelm our aversion to coercion. We accept the change without resentment — even without critical thought.
When this happens, we sometimes confuse the change with its agent. Because we trust the change agent, we fail to apply appropriate critical standards when we assess the goodness of the change. Advertisers, political candidates, and others interested in influencing the opinions of large populations often exploit this fallibility.
Group affiliation and disaffiliation
Groups with which we seek affiliation, or seek to maintain affiliation, can influence our decisions about the value of a change, as they can influence other decisions. If we feel that supporting a change might threaten an affiliation we value, we're less likely to support it. In some cases, this bias can be internalized. That is, outside our awareness, our desire for the affiliation can influence our assessment of the goodness of a change.
A desire Groups with which we seek affiliation,
or seek to maintain affiliation,
can influence our decisions about
the value of a change
for disaffiliation or distancing can have a similar effect, except that the judgments we make are more likely to be opposed to the stances of the groups in question. In disaffiliation, the process is more akin to if-they-want-it-then-I-don't. Both the desire to affiliate and the desire to disaffiliate can interfere with clear, critical thinking.
Although this mechanism is sometimes known as "peer pressure" or "social pressure," the use of the word pressure evokes a sense of coercion, which isn't always accurate. Often, when our desire for group affiliation affects our assessments of a change, and when we're unaware of the emotional importance of the affiliation, we feel autonomous and free, rather than coerced.

All of these effects are difficult to detect when they're happening, but reflect on your personal history. The past can be a portal to the present. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: I've Been Right All Along  Next Issue

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