A lesson in group think and how it causes anxiety among those of us who aren’t talking.
In university, I went on a trip with some friends to go Tidal Bore rafting. The night before we left, we were all sitting around a campfire with some people who had been rafting before. As a high-anxiety pessimist, I was envisioning intense river rapids with jagged rocks and assumed at some point I would be ejected from the boat and wash up on the shore with broken arms and legs, only to be saved by a group of deliverance-style villagers. I felt much better once it was explained that we were going to be rafting against the Bay of Fundy tides in a very safe-looking, rock-free environment. As the conversation continued, the experienced rafters started to explain that if we really wanted to “have fun” we would have to egg the driver on, and encourage him/her to really crash into the waves and try to knock us off the boat. Many of my friends were nodding in agreement and seemed completely unphased by the idea that we would actively encourage the driver to try to kill us. I know you’re wearing a lifejacket in case you fall out of the boat, but I assumed it was just a precaution and not an invitation. Then I started thinking “I’m going to be stuck in a boat with some moron who’s going to try to increase my probability of being washed out of the boat.” It’s going to be like being on a ferris wheel with one of those idiots who rock the seat back and forth.
I knew there was at least one other person who wasn’t an adrenaline junky and I decided to be THAT guy. I asked the group “Does anyone not want to have fun?” Very slowly, others started to raise their hands. There was exactly one boat-load of people who were very interested in riding the “no fun” boat (which was roughly half of the people going on the trip.) I also had to interject the next day to make sure that we were properly separated in the fun and no fun boat, so as not to be stuck with someone actively taunting the person in charge of our safety. I think the driver took umbrage with the fact that we suggested his boat was no fun, but it was more important not to tempt death than it was to spare his feelings.
The lesson here is that there are many of us who do not have a death wish and sometimes one of us has to speak up and apply logic for the rest of us. At times it’s important for someone to elect themselves captain of the no fun boat, and make things less fun for the rest of us. So the next time you want to interject and say “Let’s drive 10 km/h under the speed limit, because conditions are less than ideal.” or “We could all enjoy the concert a lot more if everyone stayed seated for the whole show” or “Let’s keep our phones on airplane mode while we’re in the plane.” Remember that there are millions of of us “no-fun” passengers on your boat who are right behind you, but are not comfortable sharing our thoughts. Don’t let the extroverts take the wheel. Someday they’re going to lead you right off a cliff.
P.S. There were no casualties in either boat.