Have any of you been part of an Abilene Paradox? Do any of you know what an Abilene Paradox even is?
An Abilene Paradox is when a group of individuals agree to a course of action based on the theory it is best for the group, despite going against the preferences of members of the group. This occurs when individuals feel their objections are not strong enough to support changing the minds of others in their group. Commonly referred to as “rocking the boat”.
Here is the story I heard, that made me think, “Hey, this happens to me a lot!”
Picture a hot and humid Sunday on a July afternoon in the small town of Coleman, Texas. The temperature is 104 degrees – in the shade. A mother, father, their married daughter and son-in-law are sitting on the outdoor porch playing dominoes.
The father suddenly exclaims, “Why don’t we all get in the car and drive to Abilene and have dinner in the cafeteria there?” The son-kn-law thinks to himself, “Abilene? That’s 53 miles away in this dust and heat and the car air conditioner isn’t working as it should.”
But his wife, the daughter, chimes in,“That sounds like a great idea. How about you, dear?” she asks her husband. Since his preferences are obviously out of step with the others, he slowly responds, “Sounds OK to me, but does your mother want to go?” He is hoping she will say No. The mother-in-l.aw replies, “Why not, I haven’t been to Abilene in a long time.”
So they all pile into the old Buick and off they go to Abilene. It is brutally hot, the wind is blowing stifling hot air full of dust and the air conditioning is faulty. They arrive in Abilene after an hour and a half uncomfortable ride.
The cafeteria food is filling but nothing to write home about. Three hours and 106 hot miles later, the family is back in Coleman, sweating and exhausted.
The son-in-law says, sarcastically, “Great trip, wasn’t it?”
His mother-in-law replies, “To tell you the truth, I really didn’t enjoy it that much and would have liked to stay home. I just went along because the three of you were so enthusiastic about going. You all pressured me into it.”
The son-in-law couldn’t believe what he heard. “What do you mean, ‘you all?’ I didn’t want to go; I only went to satisfy the rest of you.”
His wife looked shocked. “Hey, I just went along to keep the rest of you happy. You three were the ones who wanted to go.”
Then her father entered the conversation. “Well, I never really wanted to go to Abilene. I just thought you all might want to go; that you were bored just playing dominoes here. I would have preferred to stay home and eat the leftovers in the icebox.” (outdated term for refrigerator).
They all sat back in silence. Here they were, four reasonably sensible, intelligent people, who of their own volition had just taken a 106-mile trip across a godforsaken desert in furnace-like heat and a dust storm to eat unpalatable food at a hole in the wall cafeteria in Abilene, and none of them had really wanted to go in the first place. In fact, they had done the opposite of what they really wanted to do.
So, have you ever encountered an Abilene Paradox?
We should just speak our minds!