Of Wolves, Sheep and social groups.

I find myself being baffled by the basis of social interaction and the sort of groups being formed here at college. This was something that I found quite interesting way back in office too. What is it that would make a motley crew of people, previously unknown to one another just sort of start ‘hanging out’? Thanks to the fever and sore throat from the first few days, I was unable to interact with a lot of people, hence giving me the chance to observe some of the nuances of social interaction and group formation. You’ll have to excuse me for making this sound like an empirical study paper, but it’s just mere observations which I find totally fascinating. Most of this might be obvious, but I just feel like writing about it.

The first two factors which I observed that sort of got people together were ‘region’ and ‘language’. It was quite evident that groups that came from the same region were more comfortable with one another when compared to groups that were from a different region. This feature transcended looks, religion and all the other classifications. For example, people from Bangalore or Bombay or Delhi were immediately sort of attracted to one another. My theory for this is ‘comfort’. In an unknown place, it’s always nice to interact with someone who is from your town. This allows one to relate to places, restaurants, local customs of that region. For example, someone from the north found it incomprehensible that one would already mix curd and rice together and serve it. I still don’t get why people down south do that…and I’m a south Indian. Anyway, this would seem completely natural to someone from the south.

Once, the core group based on place of origin was formed, it was down to language which formed the very next determining factor of acceptance or interaction into the group. For example, someone not from Delhi or surrounding regions who was able to speak Hindi quite well was either accepted into the social group or was made a pseudo member. A pseudo member is when the group would not accept you inside the inner circle, but you were allowed to be on the outer circle. The outer circle would be off limits for someone who falters with the language. This sort of interaction was quite predominant on the first two days when everyone as together. A pseudo-member was one who could speak not only the language of the group but also the local language and is called upon from time to time.

The next very visible interaction was on a one to one basis, where people would interact with others on short one to one basis and would in there minds determine compatibility ratios. This is where the sheep (part of a mass group) and the wolves (predominantly loners, but gregarious if required) are filtered out. Now, the problem with this sort of interaction is that there is no real rationale as such. It’s based on opinions and first impressions. Numerous wolves were deemed sheep and accepted into the inner circle, while numerous otherwise sheep were deemed wolves, for lack of a common thread. This is group purely based on perception. This allows for the easy exchange of status of members from wolves to sheep over time. These sort of conversations are where people look for a commonality or compatibility for a long term basis. Factors like eloquence, manners, capability, are taken into consideration sub-consciously; this coupled with the general rules for social appearance. When one finds that another person is not responsive in a manner which they see fit, it leads to the end of all further interactions, or at best results in bare-minimum interaction. It is quite interesting to note that this sort of behaviour is seen among people who cannot form a majority on the basis of language or region. Example, you find groups with 2 people from Indore, 1 person from Jharkand, 1 from guwhati, etc. Please note, these are random places. This is where those normally left out in the first round of group formation come together. This can result in groups as low as two people to groups of up to 8 people. Now, what happens to the wolves in such a case when all the sheep have formed their herd? One of two things can happen. The wolves either enjoy solitude while keeping social interaction to a bare minimum with other sheep or other wolves, or wolves would form part of the third category explained below.

The next factor determining the sort of group formed is habit or interests. This is very obvious in the case of people who smoke. There exists a natural propensity to huddle together, even for short intervals of time, to share a lighter. Groups formed out of habit are generally fleeting and are groups that are short-lived. This involves people with an interest in music, interest in football, PC gaming, etc. These groups comprise of wolves and temporary break-aways from the sheep that come together for the realization of a common cause. Once the purpose of interacting has been solved, the sheep return to the herd while the wolves return to their pack. Many times, it is the third category that leads to formation of people with equal participation in more than one herd. For example, someone from Chennai would be part of the herd that spoke tamil and stayed in town while they would also form part of the herd that shared a common interest in football, or who supported the same team. There would be equal participation in both. It was quite interesting to note, that sheep generally cannot equally participate in more than 3 herds, while this sort of multi-tasking came quite easily to the wolves due to the lack of any ordered allegiance.

Now, I find myself portraying wolves as potential outcasts from the social system, but that is far from the truth. While there does exist a segment of wolves who would remain predominantly introvert, there also exists the other side of the spectrum which has wolves that are gregarious enough, but are generally motivated by causes not shared by the majority. While they may find a common thread in language or region, but that is where the commonality ends. Such wolves in my mind fall under the category of ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’. They would not be part of one herd but tend to feed off their requirements from many herds. Sheep also tend to come together by circumstance. For example, groups formed based on some criteria that are forced to work together tend to become sheep for that moment in time, to serve a cause. Once the task is complete, the sheep would revert to their original herds.

That’s about as far as my analysis goes. It’s quite amazing when one is forced to shut the hell up thanks to them darn germs having a party in your throat, that one actually starts observing all these subtle things. I might be completely wrong with regard to the theory about groups, but then I’m not submitting this to Harvard for a PhD. It’s just mere observations that I made. For those two days, I felt like John Nash staring out into a matrix of numbers and seeing secret code just popping out of the board. Anyway, am done being all MBA geek like for one day.