"A group is two or more people whom, for longer than a few moments, interact with, influence one another, and perceive one another as us” (Myers, 2010, p. 268). Groups potentially provide information, affiliation, identification, and support the realization of goals and the human necessity to belong. In the mere presence of a group, its collective action exerts influence on behaviors and provokes reactions such as social facilitation, social loafing, deindividuation, and evaluation apprehension (Myers, 2010). Evaluation apprehension can render an individual incapacitated with self-consciousness because of a heightened subjective sense of evaluation by others, and this heightened awareness can interfere with normally automatic behaviors (Henchy & Glass, 1968).
According to Myers (2010), social facilitation occurs when evaluation apprehension increases, and as apprehension increases, individuals use social facilitation and compliance to avert ostracism. Alternatively, social loafing occurs as evaluation apprehension decreases through integration with the group. Myers (2010) suggests we are aroused by the presence of others because of a combination of evaluation apprehension and distraction. The combination of the two creates a conflict between focusing on the presence of others and concentrating on the task (Myers, 2010).
The Ho`ao Aloha Marriage Tradition
Recently I had the honor of attending a Hawaiian wedding ceremony. Filled with cultural ritual and a language with which I am only superficially familiar, I thought I might be ostracized because I would be the only Haole (literally, without breath - nomenclature reserved exclusively for White people) in attendance. The ceremony was spoken in Hawaiian, the foods were traditional Hawaiian delicacies, and the location was an idyllic knoll above a quiet and mostly unknown, ancient, and inaccessible bay on the Hana side of Maui. Certainly this was an experience to remember and cherish, and a decidedly remarkable learning experience.
As I contemplated my participation before the fact, I considered the well-acquainted group that would attend. Their families spent generations in this old Hawaiian Maui, and promoted this tightly knit group of Hawaiians. Their intricate support system was physical in the assistance they provided to each other, yet visceral, and almost genetic. Even as their numbers decreased, the strength of their resolve intensified along with their native sense of ancient ethnic affiliation. These like-minded individuals are still farming the ancient gardens of taro, still living on the land, and more important, according to the land.
Preconceived Notions Regarding My Experience
Although Hawaii is quite diverse because of the various ethnicities and cultures comprising the islands, there is a striking amount of racial tension suspended heavily amidst the natural beauty. Polarization occurs in many of the local communities where Hawaiians, Asians, Filipinos, Whites, and Mexican Americans self-segregate. As Sigmund Freud (1927) aptly described, "It is understandable that the suppressed people should develop an intense hostility towards a culture whose existence they make possible by their work, but in whose wealth they have too small a share" (p. 11).
I have several Hawaiian friends with whom I have no sense of racial or cultural difference, although many Hawaiians still feel the sting of the White American invasion of their islands. Prior to the wedding, I considered that I was familiar only with the bride and a few of her relatives, so I was unsure how welcome I would feel, and I questioned my ability to enjoy myself as an integral part of the ceremony. I was concerned with evaluation by others and experiencing the self-consciousness associated with such evaluation.
Fear of Evaluation
According to Myers (2010), self-consciousness can interfere with automatic behaviors one normally performs efficiently and easily. Research suggests the arousal that occurs by the mere presence of others is due, in part from evaluation apprehension and distraction. The distraction is the discord between focusing attention on others and maintaining concentration on the task. Myers (2010) claims such arousal can occur even when there is no evaluation or distraction. Robert Zajonc theorized arousal facilitates dominant responses and the performance of easy tasks is boosted although the arousal hinders performance on difficult tasks when the dominant response is incorrect (Myers, 2010).
My evaluation apprehension escalated as I imagined my entrance into an unknown territory and being on the outside of an in-group. Frankly, I was concerned whether this group of culturally long-established, self-supportive, tightly knit kindred spirits would welcome an unaffiliated, alien non-member who had no trace of their beloved ethnicity. This was a highly cohesive and somewhat insulated group. I wondered if my presence would render me a dissenter, or if I would appear to fill some stereotypical role according to their racial bias. I considered the notion of ethnocentrism and wondered if racial undertones would affect my experience with the group. Hawaiians, in general, do not usually think of themselves as better than other ethnic groups; however, some question the values and morals of White people.
Another consideration of the group of which I would be a part was the effect of group polarization. This effect states when groups of like-minded individuals congregate, they are likely to move toward extremes in their thinking (Myers, 2010). If there were many Hawaiians who did not necessarily think White people should be part of such an exclusively traditional ceremony, it was possible I might experience the effects of such polarization. I decided to rely on the aloha of the Hawaiian people, and the polarization phenomenon moving toward a more positive extreme.
A Warm Welcome and the Dissipation of Apprehension
The affect and presence of the group quickly dashed my preconceived notions when I experienced an immediate acceptance with no apparent awareness of my racial difference. Hawaiians are traditionally far more collectivist than the traditional American culture, and apparently my fears were based on my individualistic perspective, an egocentric nature, and a heightened sense of self-consciousness and evaluation apprehension. Because of my lack of self-efficacy in an unfamiliar situation, I initially felt inefficient and awkward, although this sensation waned as I relaxed in the presence of a warm welcome. The group received me as one of their own.
The Reactions of Others and Their Effects on My Behavior
Although there are some norms universal to all cultures, every culture has norms for accepted and expected social behavior (Myers, 2010). One of the keys of life to native Hawaiians is "aloha." Alo means presence and ha means breath, literally translated it means the presence of (divine) breath. Queen Lili'uokalani said, "Because of Aloha, one gave without thought of return; because of Aloha, one had mana" (Allen, 1982, p. 27). (To Hawaiians, mana is the divine force that resides in people.) Although I anticipated my ethnicity as a separating distinctiveness, it was simply my misperception of how I thought others might react to my distinctiveness. Instead, the distinction had a compelling quality that bridged any imagined superficial differences.
According to Myers (2010), when one person likes another, the feelings are usually mutual. Proximity and attractiveness influence initial attraction between people, and similarities and close situations influence longer-term attractions. When people have a deep need to belong and be accepted, usually there is reciprocity. Myers (2010) claims "one person's liking for another does predict the other's liking in return" (p. 415). My visceral desire was to be accepted and to feel a sense of belonging with people whose land I have occupied and loved for many years. I entered the event with a desire to give, share, and in some capacity, love. My efforts were returned many fold. I was embraced by the group whose fundamental life experiences seemed so different from mine, although we shared a common appreciation, as individuals striving for the better, as one of many who struggle with, survive, and thrive despite our humanness. Their welcoming attitude enabled me to relax and be my best possible self in a ceremony of which I understood little from the words, but every bit of the meaning.
The Experience and the Effect on My Self
My experience at the wedding surpasses the following words I find for description. I learned about myself as a small fraction of society and I gained a new sense of wisdom, tolerance, and compassion. I had a deep transcending experience of what I have known for a long time, but somehow the experience personalized the knowledge and at the same time depersonalized it in the context of how we, the human species, do what we do, and why we do it. For all my self-centered concern about being the minority and the worry of the judgments of others, I found belonging in a group with whom I thought I shared no history. According to Myers (2010), "In the context of the world, every race is a minority (p. 455). As individuals we are a minority if we give more strength to the differences that separate us, but we are a group when we give more strength to our sameness. "The attitude-behavior relationship is reciprocal: humans have an uncanny ability to think themselves into specific behaviors as well as acting in ways that affect their thinking. Behavior augments the ideas and attitudes that influence the action, especially when individuals believe they are responsible for their behavior" (Freedman, Marques, Otley, & Stone, 2011, p. 4). An African proverb as quoted by Myers (2010) sums my experience, "If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together" (p. 296).
The mere presence of others, claims Myers (2010), can change the course of human experience. Others can instill fear, and they can provoke joy. Expressed by the human need to belong, individuals fear the thought of a lone existence and crave solidarity. Toward that purpose they facilitate and accommodate others, lose a sense of themselves to maintain association and belonging, fear the judgments of others, and chose to surrender their individuality in return for the safety that numbers provide. As humans continue to maintain the intrinsic character of the pack, the whole is most often greater than the sum of its parts.
Allen, H. G. (1982). The Betrayal of Lili'uokalani, Last Queen of Hawaii, 1838 - 1917. Glendale, CA: Clark.
Freedman, K., Marques, Q., Otley, K., & Stone, D. (2011, April 11). Cognitive dissonance [Scholarly project].
Freud, S. (1927). The future of an illusion, civilization and its discontents and other works. London: Hogarth.
Henchy, T., & Glass, D. C. (1968). Evaluation apprehension and the social facilitation of dominant and subordinate responses. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 10(4), 446-454. doi: 10.1037/h0026814
Myers, D. (2010). Social Psychology (10th ed.). New York: McGraw Hill.