Do you think most people can be trusted ?
What percentage of people do you think, believe most people can be trusted ?
Have you given money to charity in the last month ?
What percentage of people do you think, have given money to charity in the last month ?
Have you volunteered your time at least once to help others during the last year ?
What percentage of people do you think, have volunteered their time at least once to help others during the last year ?
There’s a theme behind these questions – what we do is influenced in part by what others are doing.
The fact is that most of us, most of the time, feel more comfortable when we go along with the accepted social norms, than when we don’t. No one wants to be the only person at a fancy dress party not in fancy dress, or the only one wearing it at a black-tie event. It’s all about fitting-in and living-up to the expectations of our peers and the wider group.
Of course, it’s not that we always unthinkingly follow the crowd, but just that we tend to conform unless we have especially strong views to the contrary . . . we follow the path of least resistance. This tendency affects our beliefs and behaviours to a surprising degree; from what music we listen to and what we wear, to what newspapers we read and how we vote, and the study of social norms, how they form and develop and how they may be influenced and changed, has become an important area of research.
But the really interesting thing is that in fact it doesn’t much matter what people are actually doing, it’s what we think they’re doing that matters !
If we think everyone else is helping themselves to the office stationary, we might be more tempted to ‘borrow’ a stapler ourselves. If we think everyone else is evading paying their taxes, we might be more tempted to do the same.
And it’s not only our behaviours, it’s also our beliefs.
It we think everyone else is upset about ‘illegal immigrants coming over here, abusing the system’, or that ‘wind-farms are a terrible blight on the landscape’, then the evidence suggests we’re more likely to conform to those views ourselves.
And of course, we mustn’t forget, that in fact most of the time we don’t actually know how everyone else is behaving, or what their beliefs or opinions are.
For example -
How much does the average person give to charity ?
Most of us simply don’t know.
So we tend to either project our own opinions onto the wider world, and assume that most people broadly do the same thing we do, or we rely on our recollections of media headlines we might have spotted recently, which of course puts us at risk not only from their slant and bias, but because we tend to self-select our news sources, often only reading things we already know we’re going to largely agree with.
Needless to say we get things wrong much of the time as a result !
I think this is an important issue – it shapes opinions, actions, policies and ultimately lives.
So I’ve set myself a challenge – to try to distinguish more clearly between facts and opinion, both in others and in myself – we’re all entitled to our own opinions after all, but not our own facts! I’ll also try to challenge untruths being presented as fact wherever I can, or at least ask ‘what’s your evidence for that?’ more often.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I’ll try to be a little more open and talkative about the various ‘good’ things I do; from organic gardening and buying my clothes in charity shops, to recycling and giving money to charity – if you all do the same, we might start changing a few social norms . . . in a good way.
Let your good be visible.
And finally, the answers:
What percentage of people, do people believe most people can be trusted? What percentage of people do you think, have given money to charity in the last month? What percentage of people do you think, have volunteered their time at least once to help others during the last year?
(41% of people believe most people can be trusted. 74% of people gave money to charity last month. 72% of people have volunteered their time at least once during the last year)
(The answer to that last one is £16 a month; with poorer people and Muslims being more generous – who knew?)