Because we don’t want to be Hypocrites

In a world full of chaos and confusion, humans are motivated by consistency. We strive to stay true to our word and we like to think in consistent patterns. People who don’t, are in deed termed as freaks and wild cards.  Robert Cialdini, Professor of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University, writes that the field of Psychology asserts that desire for consistency is a central motivator of our behaviour. Moreover he asserts, that once we make a commitment in writing or on a public domain, it engenders even a greater force to stay consistent to this commitment.  Imagine a situation when you walk into your living room make a public declaration to your family “From today I am going on a diet, and would only eat salad and fruits”. You even write down your resolution and hand it to your family members.  You are greeted with a mild applause and multiple pats on your back and leave the room inspired and motivated. Fast-forward to day 3, and you are sitting on a table sneaking glances at the Butter Chicken being consumer by your brother at an insane speed. You are tempted and want to give in, and then at the very precise moment comes this little voice in the back of your head- “But you told everyone you would only eat healthy food, what would they think of you, if you gave up your resolve just 3 days after that declaration? No, you have to be strong. You can not eat that.” This simple example summarises the entire phenomenon. The very fact that you declared publically and wrote down your intent would be reason enough for you to stay consistent with that social image you created for yourself and this would foster further commitment.  This understanding has far reaching implications in the domain of marketing, but I feel that the most radical application of this relationship would be in the generation of social responsibility among citizens.

In order to understand how this might be, we probably need to look at something closer to home- The Common Wealth Games 2010.

The Common Wealth Games, fraught with organising issues, faced the wrath of national and international media and no doubt, this critique of the preparedness appalled the masses of India. This unprecedented wave of frustration and exasperation, permeated through to the online social networks that we indentify so well with. Status updates after status updates commented upon how the Organising Committee had failed us and the government’s utter lack of foresight in the planning process. What we saw coming to the foreground was a spirit of questioning in a public forum, a kind of domino effect, where one individual’s angst ignites the others spirit of restlessness. Social Networks were ablaze with debates and discussions over how we had gone wrong. Now this has two resounding implications. Firstly, the Indian masses, or rather the Indian masses that represent the online community have angst and an opinion. Secondly, channelizing this opinion into tangible and concrete steps that make the masses accept the locus of control could have even more far reaching implications than just stirring up a good conversation.

The first half of this article discussed how commitment and consistency can arise from public and written statements. Indeed then, we perhaps have an answer of stimulating action- a kind of channel to direct the thought to deeds. We know that as citizens we have opinions and ideas, but perhaps a forum greater than our social network is required for action to come to force. Contests inviting articles about how issues from littering to corruption affect our society and can be resolved are a simplistic way of looking at it. Adding to that our knowledge of commitment and consistency, once people make positive assertions as to how  citizenship can be enhanced in the society, they themselves would trudge down the path they unequivocally asserted in their writings.

Social Networks such as Facebook, are a melting pot of ideas and do stir radical thinking and a spirit of questioning, however we need to move a step above them. To draw a simple analogy, social networks can create a thirst, but in order to quench the thirst, there has to be action. Persistent attempts to talk about thirst, won’t get you closer to water, just as talking won’t cut it. In no way is this an attempt to deride the role of social networks in our lives. In fact this is just the opposite, the social networks that constitute our online community give us voice, but we can not stop there, we need to move a level above as individuals and give our own voices a form, a face and finally constitute action.

November 2010