Let's table the discussion" is a new Adath Israel Shul initiative where a story or thought is presented in order to stimulate exciting and constructive discussion around our Shabbos table or among friends and children. (Dedicated to the Refuah Sheleima of Shalva Adina Bas Sarah Chana & Eliyahu Aharon Ben Yocheved Yetta Ettel).

My older, wiser friend, Dr. B. would often spice up Shabbos morning is own different issues of the day. One Shabbos morning we were talking about my graduate work in psychology when Dr. Bluth mentioned that he had been a part of a psychological study in college.

It seems that the experiment involved participants being asked to sit in a room with other people. Everyone in the room was told to view a group of line segments and to decide which line segment of the ones viewed was biggest. To Dr. B, the answers were relatively easy. He found it interesting though, that despite the obvious answer, almost all of the group members gave opposing messages to his answer. He wondered what the study might have meant.

I told him that the study was probably a take on a famous series of studies conducted by Solomon Asch and that the other people in the room were probably not fellow research subjects but rather confederates who were trying to see if he would conform to their answers or stick to his own. Asch discovered that the more confederates joined in, on providing the wrong answer, the more likely that the real subject would go along with the majority.

Asch suggested three possibilities as to why: Participants feared ridicule from the rest of the group, they actually thought that they were wrong, or they had a strong need to feel accepted by the others. In other words, people have an innate desire to conform even when the conforming goes against their better judgment.

This idea astounded Dr. B who could not understand how a person could go against what he knew was right just to conform with that which is wrong.

The Torah commands the Jewish servant who does not want to leave his slavery with the onset of the seventh year to engage in the process of Retziah whereby he must prick his ear with an awl at the doorpost. The Talmud explains that the ear that heard that the Jewish nation is to seve Hashem and not be servants to servants needs to be pricked for not doing its job.

Rav Shlomo Wolbe ztl. explains that when we make the Beracha Shelo Asanee Eved we need to consider if we are indeed “free”. For one who is enslaved to societal reaction or to the need to conform is not free. One who lives a life wondering what others will think of him or her instead of what he or she believes to be true and valuable is not free.

Some of history’s greatest debacles have resulted from the desire to conform – the lack of awareness about the invasion of Pearl Harbor for one, many of the accidents from Korean Airlines for another. In fact, in industrial and social psychology Janis identified and labeled the desire to conform, “Groupthink” and noted its perils. However, Rabbi Dr. Eliezer Schnall has demonstrated that our Rabbis were not proponents of groupthink. They encouraged us to think and stand for our own values based on a solid Torah approach.    

Are you able to withstand group pressure even in the face of the group being wrong when you know you are correct and they are wrong?

There are many real life situations in which the lines between right and wrong are not clearly marked and decisions are, therefore, more difficult to make. What do you do then?

 Let’s  “table” the discussion – by discussing it with our children, spouses, families and guests and open an exciting  discussion into our homes and communities