International Motivational Speaker Simerjeet' Singh's Blog

The Power of Rumours

I’m reading this interesting book my Malcolm Gladwell ‘The Tipping Point’. Great book with excellent case studies and statistical evidence to back up the central theme – ‘How littele things can make a big difference’ . Came across an interesting piece on Rumours and I’m shairng it here.

“A Chinese teacher was travelling through the State of Maine (US) on vacation in the summer of  1945 shortly before Japan’s surrender to the Allies at the end of World War II. The teacher was carrying a guidebook, which said that a splendid view of the surrounding countryside could be seen from a local hilltop, and he stopped in a small town to ask for directions.

From that innocent request, a rumour quickly spread: a Japanese spy had gone up the hill to take pictures of the region.”

The passage goes on to describe that there were three directions of distortion. First of all the story was leveled. All kinds of details that were essential for understanding the true meaning of the incident were left out.  Allport points out that there was no mention of the ‘courteous and timid approach of the visitor to the native of whom he inquired his way, the fact that the visitor’s precise nationality was unknown,… the fact that the visitor had allowed himself to be readily identifiedby people along the way”

Then the story was sharpened. The details that remained were made more specific. A man became a spy. Someone who looked Asian became Japanese. Sightseeing became espionage. the guidebook in the teacher’s hand became a camera.

Finally, a process of assimilation took place: the story was changed so it made more sense to those spreading the rumour.  “A Chinese teacher on a holiday was a concept that could not arise in the minds of most farmers, for they did not know that some American universities employ Chinese scholars on their staffs and that these scholars like other teachers, are entitled to summer holidays”

“The novel situation was perforce assimilated in the terms of the most available frames of reference” and Gladwell writes that the most available frames at reference in 1945, in Rural Maine, at a time when virtually every family had a son or relative involved in the war effort, the only way to make sense of a story like this, was to fit it in the context of war.

(Gladwell cites this passage from The Psychology of Rumor (New York: Henry Holt, 1947) pp. 135-158 by Gordon Allport and Leo Postman.)

Hmmm… this sent me on quest to find out the importance of original thinking as compared to accepting the social frame of reference. Personally, I feel that we all can fall prey to listening to what we want to hear rather than what is actually being said. The listening process then starts a cycle – interpretation, transmission, belief reinforcement, collecting evidence to support that belief and becoming resistant to the real facts.

This recent Bollywood movie, Delhi -6 was a great example of how rumours spread and what kind of potential deadly epidemics they can unleash and how the masses can be swayed. The ‘Kala Bandar’ threat was funny and enlightening.

Have a Rumour Free day ahead!


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