What percentage of people need to accept something before there is widespread change and new norms are created? Researchers say about 25% is the “tipping point.” All it takes is 1 in 4 people to change the status quo on a large scale.
This has positive and negative implications.
The negative implication is what we see all around us with the devolution of values and culture. Within just 5 to 10 years, what had always been considered the degenerate behavior of a fringe group of perverts is now a “lifestyle” that all must not only accept but celebrate and whoever doesn’t is a “hateful bigot.”
How does such a massive 180 degree change in norms happen in such a short amount of time? All it takes is roughly 25% of people to strongly profess belief in that norm.
But, interestingly, norms can also change if there is merely the perception that about a fourth of society has adopted new standards. This is where media plays a critical part. If you can portray something as more widely accepted than it really is, that perception you are creating will be equally effective in changing the status quo.
When it comes to LGBT, this is a documented phenomenon. According to the LGBT advocacy group GLAAD, in recent years, 18% of films included LGBT characters. Nearly 10% of characters on Western TV programs are “LGBT identifying.”
In reality, the population of LGBT identifying people in the US is about 3%. But due to media over-representation, when average people are asked to guess the percentage of the population that is LGBT identifying, they consistently over-estimate. In 2013, people on average guessed 23%.
The critical role of perception can also help us understand the wisdom of why concealing one’s sins is so important in Islam. Flaunting one’s sins and telling people about them is a major sin in and of itself. As the Prophet ﷺ said:
“All of my ummah will be forgiven except those who sin openly. It is a part of sinning openly when a man does something at night, then the following morning when Allah has concealed his sin, he says, ‘O So and so, I did such and such last night,’ when all night his Lord has concealed him and the next morning he uncovers what Allah had concealed.”
This is contrary to the “no shame” culture that is increasingly being promoted throughout the world. Why hide your sins? Why be ashamed of “who you are”? Only God can judge! To hide your sins is to be a hypocrite! Don’t be a hypocrite! Let it all out!
This is how moral corruption spreads and takes root. It doesn’t need much. Just a loud minority of people who have no shame in going against established values openly. Eventually, if their voice goes unchecked, the values will be discarded and new ones will be instituted even if the majority of people were abiding by those initial values. This is the danger.
But there is a silver lining as well because, in the face of moral corruption, a minority of people calling to good can make a big difference bi idhnillah. You don’t need 75% or 50% of people to be on board to change things for the better. Only 25% is needed. This rule applies not only to society overall but also smaller groups, like at the masjid, at your MSA, in your family, etc. This has profound implications for how to strategically approach positive change and calling people to goodness and truth on a large scale.
We have to be optimistic and recognize that no situation is too dire. No matter how bad the world can get, it can still turn for the better, even in short periods of time. Allah has given each of us some amount of time on earth. How are we going to use it?