A group of hungry, malnourished individuals who are under a lot of distress. What are your feelings when thinking of them?
Presumably, you will also be feeling a sense of woe and sorrow.
Have you ever wondered why this happens?
Why do you feel connected to a vulnerable group of strangers?
In the following article, we are going to explore a phenomenon called collective consciousness. We are also going to explore why we feel the way we feel and later how we can use collective consciousness to do the greater good in our business and the world.
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During a crisis, we have seen individuals and institutions gather to help and turn the crisis around and produce something positive out of it. What drives us to feel that way?
We all share a similar feeling of unity within us. Where does this natural instinct of togetherness come from? The answers to all these questions can be answered by a singular phenomenon called collective consciousness.
Collective consciousness drives human actions from a viewpoint of society rather than as an individual alone. It is a shared, sometimes dormant, emotion deep-rooted in collective good rather than individual gain.
Let’s now understand what collective conscience or common consciousness truly is.
What is Collective Conscious?
Collective consciousness (also called collective conscience) is a term popularized in the 19th century, coined by Émile Durkheim, a French Sociologist, based on his observations of modern society.
Collective consciousness can be generalized as the combination of common beliefs, ideas, and drive found in a group of people that drive their thoughts and actions.
According to Durkheim, collective consciousness is defined as ‘the body of beliefs and sentiments common to the average of members of society.
- Collective consciousness is what makes us human beings all feel like we belong together in this society. This feeling can also be described as social conscience. It is the hidden or rather an unconscious feeling that resides in all of us that makes us feel connected in some way.
- Collective consciousness is also not a one-time deed but is passed through generations by way of rituals like marriages and funerals, values like the right to vote and respect, beliefs like religion, views like dress codes and different languages.
Durkheim argued how individuals in a given society are bound together by a shared culture and he found that this was due to the existence of norms, rules, and roles which is essentially the collective conscience.
This refers to the way we think in synchronization in our shared culture and our involvement in rituals and engagements that confirm this collective consciousness. These activities also act as a reminder of our shared interests and our common values.
Collective Conscience – A Deep Dive
The Past and The Present
In societies of past centuries, the social conscience was much stronger and individuals were bound by feelings of religion and other traditions. In the centuries that came after, like present-day, societies are more organic meaning individuals prefer to put themselves before the collective conscience.
Society either envelopes mechanical or organic solidarity. This change from mechanical solidarity to an organic solidarity one was likely due to the evolution from restrictive systems of governance to a more democratic approach.
Organizations and Social Institutions
Collective consciousness informs that organizations and social institutions such as education, law, police, state, and justice systems have all stemmed from our collective consciousness. The current society consists of different collective groups like family, organizations, community, nations.
This indicates that all these individual collective groups also share a collective consciousness among themselves that think, judge, and act in similar ways.
Repressive and Restitutive Norms
When trying to explain collective consciousness, Durkheim also talks about repressive and restitutive norms. In the past(and still followed in some places), in areas where repressive norms are prevalent, if a crime was committed, the criminal was treated as a menace to society.
The criminal is then charged with a punishment that is in tune with trying to disrupt societal peace not keeping in mind the harm caused to the victim. Here the collective consciousness works as a unit.
Under restitutive norms, a crime committed by a criminal against a victim is solely considered when granting a punishment. In most countries today, this norm is followed as crimes against an individual weigh more in the eyes of the judiciary than the impact on society caused by the crime.
The Widened Range of Collective or Common Consciousness
In the past, if society-wide collective consciousness existed in a unified society, today, many differentiated societies have emerged with collective consciousness evolving from occupation and other social institutions.
For example, when a natural calamity occurs and is broadcasted on the news, those who watch it also feel similar sadness, desolation, and misery. This drives us to offer donations and help in any form to those who are suffering.
This is all part of our social conscience and well-being.
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What are Some Examples of Collective Consciousness?
Now that we understand what collective consciousness is, let’s look at some real-life scenarios where the collective consciousness is deeply rooted within us.
Rituals and Holidays
To acknowledge the collective consciousness within each of us, rituals and celebrations exist. These could be through social settings like weddings, sports events, parades on holidays, special days like Valentine’s day where we buy gifts, and even activities like shopping or queuing to grab a new product on release day.
Negative and positive thought patterns exist in a society and both can be influential to the individuals representing this society. The consequence of such thoughts depends on the thinking pattern of the majority of individuals within the society.
A varied thought or action from one individual can hence cause a slight change in thinking for the entire society.
Collective Consciousness in Ants
If you have seen ant colonies at work then you have seen collective consciousness at its best. In nature, the synergy and collective organization of ants is one of the best examples to demonstrate the presence and effect of shared consciousness.
Each and knows they are responsible for the good and the wellbeing of the entire colony hence individuals with this knowledge put in maximum effort.
Innovations and Developments
One of the most fascinating ways that the collective consciousness has shown its presence is by scientific breakthroughs that have come from varying topographical areas at similar times in history.
So many technological innovations have arisen throughout history, at very similar times through similar thought patterns.
For examples, some of the coincidental discoveries include
- Decimals in mathematics were created by 3 different individuals.
- The Theory of Evolution was discovered by both Charles Darwin and Russel Wallace.
- The Laws of Conservation of Energy were proposed by 4 different people around the same time.
How to Use Collective Consciousness to Your Benefit?
This is the age of the internet. Today, there is nothing beyond the capability of humankind thanks to innovation in education, technology, medicine. These days we are more connected than ever which means our social collective has also evolved.
Unlike in previous eras, individuals are less concerned with having a meagre job, or a house but more concerned with their singular mission in life. They care more about cherished details like their purpose, how they can be better individuals. Collective consciousness has hence led us to look deeper into our souls.
- Thanks to globalization and the world wide web, more and more ideas are shared quicker and it is then viewed by thousands of people via tweets and posts who then share it to thousands of their followers.
With this opening up different channels for ideas, our individual collective consciousness is more impacted by the perspective of other’s experiences. Our individual and collective consciousness keeps on skyrocketing.
- Business organizations today can drive capitalism with the help of collective consciousness. When an organization wants to release a product or service to the world, it can gauge its viability by tapping into the “herd behavior” or the individual and collective consciousness.
- Shared consciousness even brings medical and immediate innovations to the forefront. Today, our collective consciousness comes in more handy for example in the form of discovering new medicines and vaccinations during the onslaught of an epidemic.
Or contributing monetary and relief aid during a disaster or a natural calamity, spreading a common idea of maintaining social distance to avoid the spread of diseases.
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Collective or shared consciousness is the outcome of social drives that exist outside of an individual and the same drive that pushes our society forward. This creates a collaboration of common values, our belief systems, and ideas that we are exposed to.
As individuals, we feel internally responsible for this and through the collective consciousness in us, we perform actions that reflect the thoughts of the majority.
Understanding collective consciousness helps us in bridging the gap to ourselves better and how some of our actions are influenced by those around us and an unconscious decision is always made in our minds regarding a choice by the shared consciousness we harness.
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