Polytheistic Ethics: Dealing with Groupthink

Often a test of ethics will come from membership in a group, whether at the workplace, home, or school. Each group has its own personality, derived from the combination of people in it. By sharing their goals and identities, people, in return, receive a feeling of security and comfort from the group. However, there will be times when what a person thinks is right runs counter to what the group wants.

Some groups can work to the detriment of the individual. Psychologist and researcher Beatrice Schultz wrote, “A group can hold power over us if we find it attractive enough to want to be a member.” When this develops, “groupthink” among the members will often occur, unless the members encourage nonconformity. Without any debate, group members will often coalesce to a tight unit. As it becomes incapable of making moral judgments, the decision making ability of the group deteriorates.

The University of Pittsburg’s student site on the dynamics of small groups lists several symptoms of groupthink. “The group overestimates its power. Often times a group can believe that their cause is right and that nothing can go wrong with their plan.” Moreover, groupthink leads to an extraordinary degree of over-optimism and risk taking by the group. Groupthink pressures the individuals to conform, and discourages them from having doubts. Silence then becomes consent.

Contributing to groupthink is the “Phenomenon of Group Polarization,” which is “people in groups become more extreme in their point of view.” The “Risky Shift Phenomenon” states that “In the group, they are likely to make riskier decisions as the shared risk makes the individual risk less.” Because of this, “decisional stress” may occur. When a group is forced to make an important decision, the individuals within the group will feel insecure. Therefore the group members will reduce their stress by making decisions quickly with as little dissension as possible.

I have had experiences with groupthink. At one time, a gang took up residence in my garden condo complex. Because they believed that the police were ineffective, my neighbors were reluctant to call them. Moreover, they also did not want to be a target for the gang. My neighbors thought that I was insane for wanting to go to the police to stop the gang. I became caught between keeping the social order and having relations with my neighbors.

When facing an ethical dilemma, Loyola Marymount University (LMU) advises their students to do a three step process. First ask, “What are the consequences of each act? What are the benefits and harms for each? How will they play out over the long and short-term?” Second, analyze each action. “How do they measure up against various moral principles?” (Polytheists have ethics that are derived from their religious traditions such as the Roman virtues.) Finally, make a decision that you can live with.

The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) tells their members to map out the dilemma to decide what action to take. CIMA advises that they should resolve the dilemma as quickly as possible since longer the delay, the greater the repercussions will be. The CIMA suggests asking yourself: “How would I feel if I saw this in a newspaper?”

There are two Polytheistic ethics which I considered, at the time, for my own dilemma. The first is “Natural Law: Actions have consequences. What we choose will expand beyond ourselves.” The second is the Norse concept of Wyrd (soul and fate). Our choices will add to or subtract from the Well of Wyrd. What we do with others will weave our Wyrd into theirs. Therefore together, our fates are intertwined unless we deliberately unravel the threads.

In my case, I had woven my wyrd with that of my neighbors’. With that in mind, I had to choose what to do next. Instead of berating my neighbors for their passivity, I called the police when I felt in danger. My neighbors thought that I was “asking for it,” but the gang ignored me. I felt resistance from my neighbors for “endangering everyone by calling the police.” For me, Natural Law meant doing something to keep my home safe. My wyrd would suffer if I did nothing. Also, I did divination to see what if anything else my Gods wanted me to do.

Life in my neighborhood became intolerable, after one of the gang members committed murder. Although his mother maintained her son’s innocence, he was convicted and sent to prison. At that point, the neighbors decided to evict her since she allowed the gang to stay in her home. The situation became difficult for me since everyone knew I had called the police, but still spoke to the mother. I was neutral about the mother since I was neither her judge nor jury. The mother knew that I worked with the civil authorities, but still greeted me. Eventually, the gang was broken up and the mother moved to be closer to her son in prison.

For several years, my neighbors did not speak with me. I made my choices knowing that my neighbors would shun me. It hurt but at least I could live with myself since I did what I thought was ethically correct. For me, there were no absolutes in ethics, only what I could live with. I had to consider the consequences of my actions beyond myself. Divination was a way to understand those consequences and to prepare for them.

Works Used:
Center for Ethics and Business, “Resolving an Ethical Dilemma.” Loyola Marymount University. 2009. Web. http://www.lmu.edu/Page27945.aspx.

Charterted Institute of Management Accountants, “Ethical Dilemmas: What would you do?” CIMA Global. Web. http://www.cimaglobal.com/Documents/Professional%20ethics%20docs/dilemmas%20FINAL.pdf .

Kaldera, Raven, “Wyrdwalkers: Techniques of Northern-Tradition Shamanism.” Asphodel Press: Hubbardston, MA, 2006.

Mcleod, S. A., “Simply Psychology – Articles for Students: Lawrence Kohlberg.” 2007. Web. http://www.simplypsychology.org/.

—, “Working in Groups.” University of Pittsburgh. 2007. Web. http://www.speaking.pitt.edu/student/groups .

5 thoughts on “Polytheistic Ethics: Dealing with Groupthink

  1. Groupthink seems to be the result of a crisis and, while you haven’t done so, individualists are sometimes too prone to attack it as a permanent thing in any group. In this case, you acted correctly and wisely, which nobody can dispute. I don’t know the degree of friendliness and closeness in your neighborhood, but from my experience, most neighborhoods are now economical units rather than social ones. Political parties are also giving a bad name to groups, for obvious reasons. This is why the concept and practice of community, which is the foundation of any healthy society, needs reform. And if we polytheists can lead that effort, oh the benefits and blessings that would follow.

    Liked by 2 people

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