4.3.2 Personal Influence

A person can use persuasion or religious authority to try to exert influence, as described above (4.3.1), but much can be achieved without a word being spoken.  We observe the reactions of others and adjust our behaviour in order to please them, or to avoid displeasing them – as noted by Adam Smith in The Theory of Moral Sentiments:

“We do not originally approve or condemn particular actions, because, upon examination, they appear to be agreeable or inconsistent with a certain general rule.  The general rule, on the contrary, is formed, by finding from experience, that all actions of a certain kind, or circumstanced in a certain manner, are approved or disapproved of.” (Part III, Chap. IV., para. 8)

The influence of other people, whether spoken or unspoken, is stronger if the relationship is closer – as can be illustrated graphically:

Supportive behaviour might not be expected with strangers, but hostility would not be expected either.  Strangers are entitled to expect socially-acceptable behaviour from each other but it would be unrealistic to suppose that they exert any other influence.  Some criteria for socially-acceptable behaviour are suggested later in this chapter (4.4.2), exceeding the basic standard enforced by the law.

Moral support, in this context, is characterised by words like ‘security’, ‘affection’, ’trust’, ‘cooperation’.  As described in the following sub-sections, the pressure to conform and the type of moral support received is significantly different between family members (4.3.2.1), social groups or communities (4.3.2.2), and wider society (4.3.2.3).

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