Prisons We Choose to Live Inside

In this small collection of essays, Doris Lessing considers the challenges involved in thinking and acting independently amid and the powerful pressures to fit into groups—friends, family, work, church, clubs, neighborhoods, political parties, national governments, etcetera.

"We are group animals still, and there is nothing wrong with that. But what is dangerous is not the belonging to a group, or groups, but not understanding the social laws that govern groups and govern us."

I never get tired of reading about and discussing the concept of groupthink, or group mind, as this author calls it. I see it as one of the most important issues in our lives: negotiating the balance between personal freedom and the common good. This requires objectivity which is challenging enough for us as individuals and daunting for large, complex groups.

"I think when people look back at our time, they will be amazed at one thing more than any other. It is this—that we do know more about ourselves now than people did in the past, but that very little of this knowledge has been put into effect."

It also takes objectivity to see that our situation is not hopeless.

"This is a time when it is frightening to be alive, when it is hard to think of human beings as rational creatures. Everywhere we look we see brutality, stupidity, until it seems that there is nothing else to be seen but that—a descent into barbarism, everywhere, which we are unable to check. But I think that while it is true there is a general worsening, it is precisely because things are so frightening we become hypnotized, and do not notice—or if we notice, belittle—equally strong forces on the other side, the forces, in short of reason, sanity and civilization."