Socially Proven Paralysis

What do employees working in quiet desperation, teenagers with matching clothes, and city murder victims have in common?

Their terrible situation is caused by what the writer of Influence, Robert Cialdini calls social proof.

It so happens that when people are confused about how to act, they look to how other, similar people act for cues.

Social proof says that if everyone else is wearing those clothes, then you should too. If everyone else quietly works at jobs they hate, then you should too. And if everyone else seems to think that screaming is just a marital spat, well then you shouldn’t help either.

The uncertainty is key.

We are uncertain about what is attractive, how to have a perfect career, and when intervene in the life of a stranger.

When uncertain, we look to others. We assume their actions have good reasons. They must know something you don’t. So we play it cool, and act like they do, like we know the ‘reason’.

Except they don’t have a reason. They are looking at you, assuming you have a reason they don’t.

This explains how so many people end up doing things that don’t ultimately matter to them in life.

We want to make a change, but we aren’t sure how. So we look to how others have done it. But they are looking at you, waiting for you to tell them how to do it.

The result is a society paralyzed with uncertainty, waiting for someone else to make the first move.

Who will it be?

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