“Change-washing” and the new groupie delusion

By Francisco Dao , written on July 30, 2013

From The News Desk

At almost every nightclub in Hollywood there’s a VIP section that rarely ever contains more than a couple of actual VIPs. Instead, they’re populated by groupies, “somebody’s” friends, and various other wannabe types. For every star or legitimate VIP in LA there are hundreds, if not thousands, of these dreamers running up bar tabs, buying trendy clothes, and trying as hard as they can to play the part of the doers without doing much of anything. Fueled by the groupie delusion, these people spend money to appear “as if” without actually being who they pretend to be.

The groupie delusion, once largely limited to the entertainment and fashion sectors, has now bled into the areas of charity, global change, and other intellectual fields. This is an unhealthy trend, because it creates a large faction of people who believe they are making a difference in the world without affecting any real change. In fact, the foundation of the groupie delusion is built on making people feel like they’re something they’re not.

For example, instead of actually reading and thinking, people go to TED or the Aspen Ideas Festival, so they can tell themselves they’re serious thinkers. Instead of doing something to change the world, people party at Summit Series, so they can tell themselves they’re world changers. Somewhere along the way attending these events stopped being a means to an end and became its own end.

For many people, their decision to attend is not driven by serious involvement with the topics being presented but by a desire to define themselves as leaders in these areas. They believe showing up at one of these events is enough to make that a reality. But just as sitting in the VIP section of a Hollywood nightclub doesn’t make someone an actual VIP, simply attending a particular conference doesn’t make anyone a thought or action leader. In reality, the only thing most of these people contribute is the cost of their registration.

The prevalence of attendance in lieu of action is the primary characteristic of the groupie delusion. It’s driven by people’s desire to feel significant when they likely are not. People are so desperate to identify themselves as an influencer in the various fields of social change, global development, charity, etc. that they readily embrace the twin delusions that they’re providing value and that they’re taking action. They end up engaging in a kind of brainwashing, or “change-washing” if you will, where they fool themselves into thinking they are contributing to positive change when in reality they’re just talking about it, or worse, listening to someone on stage talk about it.

Attending a conference with a star speaker line up does not define you as someone who has made a positive contribution to the world. Before you call yourself a thought leader, world changer, visionary, agent for social good, or any other inflated title, ask yourself what have you actually contributed. Have you done anything besides attend an event and perhaps donate a few dollars to a program that someone else runs? Has the world really been changed by something you’ve done? Or is your primary contribution buying your way into a “thought leaders” conference the same way Hollywood groupies buy their way into the VIP section of a club by dropping a week’s pay on bottle service?

If you can’t point to some significant accomplishment, you’re probably part of the new “change washing” groupie delusion.

[NOTE: Some of you may accuse me of being hypocritical since I run a private community. I make every effort possible to seek out people who value humility and view the world pragmatically, and I have thus far rejected everyone who proclaimed him- or herself to be a world-changer or visionary.]