I was recently given this picture, signed by the original actor who player Darth Vader, by one of my students, it’s awesome. Why? Well I’m a bit of a Star Wars fan and a lot of a geek anyway, but also there’s a little sub culture in technical diving, especially cave and rebreather diving where we like to refer to ourselves as members of the dark side! It’s kinda cool…. For us anyway and we like the T shirts. There’s a few other sub cultures in tech diving, for example, I was once told I was an ideal candidate for tech as I rode a motorcycle, had tattoos and listened to heavy metal! Guilty as charged.

But let’s look at this seriously for a minute. Why do these things appeal. Why do we like to be recognised and to have a group identity. Well we could fall back on the ‘that’s human nature’ argument and for sure there’s cogent points to be made. We could argue that it’s down to our socialisation, it’s considered the norm to be part of a social group with the same values and aspirations. Of course there are some outliers who will proudly say they wouldn’t want to be part of any group that would have them (thanks Mr Marx!). In effect though most of these people are not true loners, otherwise we’d never know about them, in reality proudly not being in a sub culture is in fact just another sub culture.

Having both our individual and group identity and culture helps normalise our behaviours, it provides expectations of how we will behave in a group and is very, very powerful. This is where the danger lies. Sometimes the group can carry people with it beyond the point of acceptable behaviour, beyond the boundary of calculated risk and far more dangerously, can, in the visibility of their achievements to aspirant members of that group, encourage bad decisions, driven by a desire to present themselves as acceptable potential group members.

I saw this recently by a diver on a Facebook group. In an attempt to promote their own standing a litany of behaviours were self reported, deviant from good technical diving practices, deviant from standards set by respected agencies in the field and exceeding limits of training and experience. When challenged the response was defensive and demeaned the commentators. When offered help it was used as a stick to beat the challengers with, but, ultimately not taken up.

But rather than dismiss out of hand, let’s strive for understanding. We witnessed these behaviours because the person wanted to be accepted into a tech diving community, but their values were at odds with the possible communities they could join. Perhaps they felt they needed to boost their image and made claims about dives done that backfired, instead of gaining respect they gained criticism and were then in a corner with no escape. Perhaps the challenges put to them, mine included, put up perceived barriers they could not see a way past. Or, perhaps they had indeed a poor attitude.

For whatever of these reasons they became motivated to prove themselves to the group by making big claims and assertions. In other more dangerous circumstances, that is in the water rather than online, that same response could have resulted in injury or death.

We always train divers not to succumb to peer pressure. Any diver can thumb the dive at any time without question or reproach. Don’t underestimate the power of the group to demand compliant behaviour, the strength of desire people have to be seen to be a part of that group, if not a leader. Particularly don’t underestimate the ability of the group to make a bad decision which then leads an individual beyond their physical, technical and mental abilities.

Dive safe , oh, and May the Force be with You