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Valentine’s Day 1996: the dangers of groupthink

My wife and I have been married for 26 years and have dated for 28 years. To this day, we have never celebrated Valentine’s Day. Well, we tried once, it didn’t go well, we agreed to never do it again.

The year: 1996. We had been dating for about five months. So it was our first Valentine’s Day. I made reservations at a restaurant that we both wanted to try. We were running late and tension started to grow because, after all, it was Valentine’s Day, and there was no way we were going to get a second table anywhere at the last minute. After tempers started to flare, one of us said, “I don’t even care about Valentine’s Day!“ and the other responded, “you don’t? Neither do I!“ And that was the beginning of us never celebrating Valentine’s Day.


Our Valentine’s Day planning–not its resolution–is an example of what I would later come to know as groupthink. Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people when the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome.

In our case, the excitement surrounding celebrating our first Valentine’s Day and going to a new restaurant created a collective mindset in which we felt compelled to share in the enthusiasm we expected the other person to have. Quite nobly, we were willing to suppress our individual preferences and reservations in favor of conforming to the prevailing sentiment. However, it was leading to a disastrous outcome.

In a world increasingly driven by the pressures of conformity and consensus, it is more important than ever to resist the pull of groupthink and to champion the value of independent thinking. By daring to question the prevailing narrative and embracing our own unique perspectives, we can break free from conformity and pave the way for a more authentic and thoughtful existence.

Danger Signs

There are several potential danger signs of groupthink, but here are some common ones:

  • Rationalization of Decisions: There is a tendency to rationalize or justify decisions made by the group, even in the face of contradictory evidence or alternative viewpoints. This can lead to a narrowing of perspective and an unwillingness to consider alternative courses of action.
  • Stereotyping of Outgroups: Those outside the group are often viewed in simplistic terms, with their opinions or actions dismissed based on preconceived notions or stereotypes. This can further reinforce group cohesion and discourage dissenting viewpoints.
  • Illusion of Unanimity: Dissenting voices are either silenced or not voiced at all, creating an illusion of unanimity within the group. This can lead to a false sense of agreement and solidarity, masking underlying disagreements or reservations.
  • Self-Censorship: Individuals may refrain from expressing their true opinions or concerns for fear of rocking the boat or disrupting group harmony. This can result in a loss of diverse perspectives and critical feedback essential for effective decision-making.

There could be a valid reason for a group to experience some of these symptoms but probably not all of them. You’ll only really know by true introspection.

So, the next time you find yourself swept up in the tide of collective opinion, take a moment to pause and reflect on your own thoughts and feelings. Challenge the status quo, ask questions, and dare to stand apart from the crowd. In doing so, you may just discover a newfound freedom of expression that leads you to greater authenticity.

While there is merit to “the wisdom of the crowd” that’s only true when the crowd acts independently.  True wisdom doesn’t lie in blindly following the crowd but in knowing when and having the courage to diverge from it.

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