Are you part of “The Lonely Crowd”?

The term “The Lonely Crowd”, was first used by a Harvard University sociologist named David Riesman in the 1950’s, who studied cultural differences emerging in parts of the American population after World War 2.

Riesman’s research provided a complex picture of American middle, and upper middle-class culture at that time and looked at how people became influenced by new forces in a more modern society.

Many people at that time were concerned about how a group or population could become conformist, for example, The Germans, under Hitler.

The results of his research are still of interest today. Riesman described three different personality or group types which he called Tradition-Directed, Inner-Directed, and Other-Directed.

Tradition-Directed people were more obedient to well-established rules and values, and did not embrace change. This meant that rituals and ways of doing things were kept in the group and carried on through the years. A modern day example of this in America would be the Amish people.

Riesman was most interested in the other two groups, the Inner-Directed, and Other Directed.

Inner-Directed people he found to be more staid and confident, often with mostly Protestant ethics and values. They were more likely to be motivated by an inner set of goals and ambitions. An Inner-Directed person seemed to conform to fit into society, but he had his own opinion, ambitions, and aimed to be esteemed rather than loved. He could be a producer rather than a consumer.

The Lonely Crowd – part 1

An Other-Directed person watched what others were thinking and doing and observed how he or she could fit in with the group or team. This person was more influenced by others and according to Riesman, therefore less likely to have self-understanding, thereby missing out on his or her full potential.

The Other-Directed group identified itself by way of noticing and living how others lived. What others earned, bought, owned, or how they behaved, was of great interest to them. They were sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of others and looked to others for guidance and approval. The Other-Directed people were group and team oriented, and preferred to be loved rather than esteemed, or thought highly of.

Riesman saw the Inner-Directed group as seemingly deciding on its own goals, but actually still being unconsciously controlled by the values and beliefs of the family of origin. You could also say that they therefore were similar to the Tradition-Directed (but not so rigid), in that they were still not free to consciously choose their own path.

Are we any different today?