Monthly Archives: November 2012

Mass-mindedness as a Catalyst for Ethno-Religious Conflicts

By Basil Ugorji

One of the major factors that often fuel ethno-religious conflicts in countries around the world may be attributed to the deadly phenomenon of mass-mindedness, blind belief and obedience. In many countries, some people have the pre-conceived idea that members of some ethnic or religious groups are simply enemies. They think that nothing good will ever come out from them. These are the results of long accumulated grievances and prejudices. As we observe, such grievances always manifest in the form of distrust, stout intolerance and hatred. Also, there are some members of certain religious groups who, for no reason, would not like to associate, live, seat down or even shake hands with the other members of religious groups. If those people are asked to explain why they behave that way, they may not have concrete reasons or explanation. They will simply tell you:“that is what we were taught”; “they are different from us”; “we do not have the same belief system”; “they speak a different language and have a different culture”.

Each time I listen to those comments, I feel completely disappointed. In them, one sees how the individual is subjected and doomed to the destructive influence of the society in which he or she lives.

Instead of subscribing to such beliefs, each person should look inwardly and ask: if my immediate society tells me that the other person is evil, inferior, or an enemy, what do I who am a rational being think? If people say negative things against others, on what grounds should I base my own judgments? Am I carried away by what people say, or do I accept and respect others as human beings like me, irrespective of their religious beliefs or ethnic backgrounds?

In his book titled, The Undiscovered Self: The Dilemma of the Individual in Modern Society, Carl Jung [i] asserts that “much of the individual life of people in society has been subjugated by the cultural trend towards mass-mindedness and collectivism”. Jung defines mass-mindedness as “the reduction of individuals to anonymous, like-thinking units of humanity, to be manipulated by propaganda and advertising into fulfilling whatever function is required of them by those in power”. The spirit of mass-mindedness can devalue and minimize the individual, ‘making him or her feel worthless even as humanity as a whole makes progress.’ A mass-man lacks self-reflection, is infantile in his behavior, “unreasonable, irresponsible, emotional, erratic and unreliable”. In the mass, the individual loses his or her value and becomes the victim of “-isms.” Showing no sense of responsibility for his actions, a mass-man finds it easy to commit appalling crimes without thinking, and grows increasingly dependent on society. This kind of attitude could lead to disastrous consequences and conflicts.

Why is mass-mindedness a catalyst for ethno-religious conflicts? This is because the society in which we live, the media, and the ethnic and religious groups present us with only one point-of-view, one way of thinking, and do not encourage serious questioning and open discussion. Other ways of thinking—or interpretations—are ignored or denigrated. Reason and evidence tend to be dismissed and blind belief and obedience encouraged. Thus, the art of questioning, which is central to the development of the critical faculty, is stunted. Other opinions, belief systems or ways of life that are contrary to what a group believes are aggressively and stoutly rejected. This kind of mentality is evident in our contemporary societies and has caused misunderstandings between different ethnic and religious groups.

The attitude of mass-mindedness need to be replaced with the disposition of the mind to question, revise and understand why some beliefs need to be held or abandoned. Individuals need to be actively involved and not passively following and keeping rules. They need to contribute or give for the general good, and not just consuming and expecting to be given more.

In order to change this kind of mentality, there is need to enlighten every mind. As Socrates will say, “the unexamined life is not worth living for a human being”,individuals need to re-examine themselves, listen to their inner voice, and be courageous enough to use their reason before they speak or act. According to Immanuel Kant, “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s understanding without guidance from another. This immaturity is self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another. Sapere Aude! [dare to know] “Have courage to use your own understanding!” – that is the motto of enlightenment”[ii].

Resisting this mass mentality can only be done effectively by the person who understands his own individuality, says Carl Jung. He encourages an exploration of the ‘microcosm – a reflection of the great cosmos in miniature’. We need to clean up our own house, put it in order before we can go ahead to put others and the rest of the world in order, because “Nemo dat quod non habet”, “no one gives what he or she has not”. We also need to develop a listening attitude in order to listen more to the rhythm of our inner being or the voice of the soul, and talk less about others who do not share the same belief systems with us.

The Voice of the Soul Workshop is a golden opportunity designed to help participants make a transition from the attitude of mass-mindedness to reflective individuality, from passivity to activity, from discipleship to leadership, and from the attitude of receiving to that of giving. The goal is to help participants discover their potentials, the wealth of solutions and capabilities embedded within, which are needed for the resolution of ethno-religious conflicts and development in countries around the world. It is aimed at helping the participantschange their focus from the “externals”— what is out there— to the “internals”—what is going on inside them. At the end of the workshop, the participants are expected to achieve metanoia, a spontaneous attempt of the psyche to heal itself of unbearable conflict by melting down and then being reborn in a more adaptive form[iii].

In the midst of so many distractions and allurements, accusations and blames, poverty, suffering, vice, crime and violent conflicts in many countries around the globe, the Voice of the Soul Workshop will offer the participants the opportunity to discover the beauties and positive realities of nature that each person carries within him or her, and the power of the “soul-life” that gently speaks to us in silence. The moderator of this workshop will ask the participants to “retire into the inner sanctuary of their own being, away from all the rush and so-called allurements of the outer life, and in the silence to listen to the voice of the soul, to hear its pleadings, to know its power”[iv]. “If the mind is filled with high incentives, beautiful principles, royal, splendid, and uplifting efforts, the voice of the soul speaks and the evil and weaknesses born of the undeveloped and selfish side of our human nature cannot come in, so they will die out”[v].

While reflecting on the consequences of ethno-religious conflicts, each participant will be asked to present what contribution he or she (the participant himself or herself as a citizen with rights, responsibilities and obligations, and not the government, ethnic or religious leaders or others who hold public offices) will make or the roles he or she will play in order to restore peace and harmony among the different ethnic and religious groups. These unbiased resolutions will be collected. From this pool of solutions, an action plan will be drafted and distributed at the end of the workshop. Such an inward exploration and group discussion will motivate participants to begin to appreciate one another as they are, without prejudices and erroneous preconceptions. It will spark-up an ardent and unreserved desire to collaborate actively in the processes of peace-building and peace-making.

The Voice of the Soul Workshop is an important exercise through which individuals are brought to the knowledge of their inner richness, capabilities, talents, strength, purposes, longings and visions. Instead of waiting for the government to restore peace and unity, the citizens are inspired and mobilized through this workshop to begin to take the bull by its horns in order to work for forgiveness, reconciliation, peace and unity. In the end, they are expected to learn to be responsible, courageous, and active, and spend less time talking about other people’s weaknesses. As Katherine Tingley puts it, « think for a moment of the creations of men of genius. If they had stopped and turned back in doubt at the time when the divine impulse touched them, we should have no grand music, no beautiful paintings, no inspired art, and no marvelous inventions. These splendid, uplifting, creative forces originally come from man’s divine nature. If we all lived in the consciousness and the conviction of our own great possibilities, we should realize that we are souls and that we too have divine privileges far beyond anything that we know of or even think of. Yet we throw these aside because they are not acceptable to our limited, personal selves. They do not fit in with our preconceived ideas. So we forget that we are a part of the divine scheme of life, that the meaning of life is sacred and holy, and we allow ourselves to drift back into the vortex of misunderstanding, misconception, doubt, unhappiness, and despair”[vi].

The Voice of the Soul Workshop will help us go beyond misunderstandings, accusations, blames, fighting, ethno-religious differences and wars, and courageously stand up for forgiveness, reconciliation, peace, harmony, unity and development.

For further reading on this topic, see Ugorji, Basil. From Cultural Justice to Inter-Ethnic Mediation: A Reflection on the Possibility of Ethno-Religious Mediation in Africa. Colorado: Outskirts Press, 2012.



[i] Carl Gustav Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist and the founder of analytical psychology, considered individuation, a psychological process of integrating the opposites including the conscious with the unconscious while still maintaining their relative autonomy, necessary for a person to become whole. For a detailed reading on the theory of Mass-mindedness, see   Jung, Carl (2006). The Undiscovered Self: The Problem of the Individual in Modern Society. New American Library. pp. 15–16 ; also read Jung, C. G. (1989a). Memories, Dreams, Reflections (Rev. ed., C. Winston & R. Winston, Trans.) (A. Jaffe, Ed.). New York: Random House, Inc.

[ii] Immanuel Kant, An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment? Konigsberg in Prussia, 30 September 1784.

[iii] From the Greek μετάνοια, metanoia is a change of mind or heart. Read Carl Jung’s psychology, op cit.

[iv] Katherine Tingley, The Splendor of the Soul (Pasadena, California: Theosophical University Press), 1996, quotation taken from chapter one of the book, titled: “The Voice of the Soul”, available at: Katherine Tingley was leader of the Theosophical Society (then named the Universal Brotherhood and Theosophical Society) from 1896 to 1929, and is remembered particularly for her educational and social reform work centered at the Society’s international headquarters at Point Loma, California.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid.