It was a classic social science experiment. A test subject was placed in a room with seven fake test subjects who were in on the experiment. Each was asked to tell which of three lines was the same length as the sample line. There were no optical illusions. The test was simple. The fake subjects went first and gave the wrong answer. One-third of the real test subjects went along with the wrong answer at least half of the time. The control group had virtually no errors. The researcher noted: “The critical subject — whom we had place in a position of a minority of one in the midst of a unanimous majority — faced, possibly for the first time in his life, a situation in which a group unanimously contradicted the evidence of his senses.”*
We all face the pressures of the group. Not all group pressures are bad. Sometimes they may be neutral. Most of the people I meet on a daily basis are wearing clothing styles that fit this time period. I’ve not seen many leisure suites or Nehru jackets lately, and young people will probably need Wikipedia to know what they are.
Sometimes group pressure may exert a good influence on us. I’ve lived for decades in the loving influence of the church. As Hebrews notes, this fellowship can stir up one another to love and good works.
But all of us will face moments when we must be the minority of one in the face of a majority that is wrong. In some ways, it may be helpful to know that such things happen, so that we can be mentally ready when we face the challenge. Even the Law of Moses warned of such situations:
You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice… (Exodus 23:2, ESV)
How do we know when we must go our own way and be a minority of one? Does what the group wants violate our conscience? Is this majority going against objective truth — what we see with our eyes and detect with our senses? Is this majority going against the revealed truth of scripture? If we answer “yes” to any of these questions, then we are being called to be a minority of one.
What helps us in this situation? We must consider God’s approval to be more valuable than human approval. In the long run, God’s side is always the winning side, even when we are forced to be a minority of one.
*Marlin Karlins and Herbert I. Abelson, Persuasion, 2nd ed., pp. 43-44.