An interesting facet of human psychology called “effort justification” often causes us to think and act in illogical ways. It goes like this; if we have to work really hard to achieve something, then our mind gives extra value to that thing completely apart from any logical benefit it might bring us. “If I worked that hard, it has to be worth it, no matter what.” Worse still, if we are emotionally involved in the achievement, it makes our reaction stronger and less logical. We reach the point of deciding that the objective must be worthwhile because it if wasn’t, then we have allowed ourselves to be victims of pointless effort/coercion/bullying.
This works just fine in many ways. Soldiers who have battled hard and lost companions to achieve an objective will fight even harder to keep it. People who have fought for their freedoms hold them more dear. Groups of athletes that have worked hard and practiced hard together make more cohesive teams.
But That’s the Nice Part
There can be less wholesome uses for this tendency. People who have been put through a horrible experience to be allowed to join a group tend to feel strongly attached to that group. They are also more likely to condone treating others the same way. So leaders create difficult initiation rites to instill loyalty in their members. If used in moderation, this is rather harmless and can even be fun.
There is always a certain element in any group that is eager to take things further: the cruel, the bully, the power junkie. These people don’t care about the group. Their only interest is in their own dominance over others.
So inexperienced, lazy, and power-oriented coaches of sports teams find it easy to let the bullies on their rosters create these “hazing” experiences because having gone through the fear and humiliation and knowing that everyone has been through it as well bonds new members to the team.
Does it Work?
Unfortunately, in a limited way, it really works. If it didn’t, the obnoxious behaviour would not have lasted for centuries. But if you think about it, the method creates an unfeeling and aggressive group with none of the positive qualities that a more creative and cooperative coaching technique would create. The cruel and repressive atmospheres of the British boarding school may have created the “Thin Red Line” that controlled the British Empire, but we are still paying the price for 19thCentury colonialism today.
Regard the Subjects
The other part of this equation is that hazing is most often practiced by teenage males. This group traditionally exhibits an excess of aggression and competitiveness and a lack of empathy, awareness and self-control. Thus when the coach encourages this behaviour but keeps himself at arm’s length because he knows darned well it is unethical, he also removes himself from exercising appropriate adult control over the activities of his team. At that point, the hazing becomes freedom for bullies to assert their control, and the “rite” goes very wrong. Social bullying, degradation, assault and even sexual assault can and do occur.
When looked at in a broader context, many of the habits and practices of an earlier time are based on techniques that worked to create the type of people and institutions required at that time. Our parents and grandparents grew up in a world that needed to create soldiers. Hence the use of violence and the destruction of individualism was accepted and even lauded.
Our society realizes the damage done by these habits, and the warped personalities and attitudes that they perpetuate. For the modern world we prefer to nurture a population with more empathy and the will to cooperate.
Such archaic and abhorrent techniques as hazing have no place in the creation of the society we wish to live in, and the more we spread the word, the sooner these unproductive and harmful practices will fall by the wayside as they deserve to.