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The hidden danger of collective illusions in community building and how to solve for them
Exploring the dangers of collective illusions in community building
I went down a YouTube rabbit hole a couple of weeks ago and came across this concept called Collective Illusion. According to Big Thing, a collective illusion is a situation where most people in a group go along with an idea that they don't agree with, simply because they incorrectly believe that most people in the group agree with it.
Having been fascinated with this concept, I started thinking about how this can apply to the world of community building. Particularly how collective illusion can be both a powerful force for togetherness, but also a potential pitfall. Shared beliefs and visions can unite members with a sense of purpose and belonging. However, when unchecked, collective illusions can lead to tunnel vision, exclusion, and even the suppression of diverse perspectives.
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Diving into this more, I explore the dangers of collective illusions in community building and ways to potentially solve them.
The dangers of collective illusions in community
When researching this topic more, I saw a few different areas where I think that collective illusions can play a big part in creating negativity within communities.
Collective illusions can inadvertently lead to echo chambers, where dissenting viewpoints are suppressed in favor of maintaining harmony within the community. Because of this, it can hamper critical thinking and growth.
In some cases, collective illusions may reinforce an "us versus them" mentality, excluding those who do not share the same beliefs. This division can weaken the community's sense of belonging and collaboration with diverse member perspectives.
An unchecked collective illusion can create a false sense of progress or achievement, leading to complacency and stagnation. When the illusion is challenged by external factors or changing circumstances, the community may struggle to adapt and evolve.
Solving the challenges of collective illusions
While there are real dangers of collective illusions within a community, there are also potential ways to solve them.
Cultivate a culture of open dialogue
The first step is to always encourage an open and respectful dialogue within the community. Highlight the importance of listening to all of the diverse perspectives, encouraging constructive criticism, and allowing for healthy debates. Build safe spaces where members will feel comfortable expressing their thoughts without fear of judgment.
Uphold diversity and inclusivity at the forefront
Always seek out and embrace diversity within the community. By celebrating all of the different perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences that community members have leads to enriching the group vision. All members should have equal opportunities to contribute and lead within the community and participate how they see fit.
Promote critical thinking
Encourage members to engage in critical thinking because it allows everyone to recognize and challenge collective illusions when they happen. In turn, this helps ensure that conversations and decisions are based on well-informed choices rather than blind agreement.
Always reevaluate goals and progress
Community building is an iterative process. Because of this, one of the goals will be to facilitate regular feedback loops and self-assessment which helps the community stay on track and also remain adaptable to change.
Bringing it all back
Collective illusions have the potential to be double-edged swords in community building. They can unite people with shared values and goals, but they can also carry the risk of fostering an unkind and exclusive environment. As community builders, when we promote open dialogue, embrace diversity, and foster critical thinking, we can mitigate the dangers of collective illusions and create stronger, more inclusive communities.