Following the Crowd

Getting the mail can be one of life's best and worst experiences. It's sort of like reaching into a dark underwater hole — you might lay your hands on an exquisite shell ... or a moray eel with a migraine.

So it was one day, as I sifted through the mail of bills, fliers and unwanted catalogs, I made individual piles — for me, my wife, File 13 and the almighty shredder.

An official-looking letter from the mayor's office brought sorting to a halt. The impressive logo on the envelope was in marked contrast to the other items in my stack. It begged to be opened first, and I could not object — it's not often I get a personal letter from the mayor. With anticipation I carefully slit it open.

Inside was a formal-looking page, signed by both the mayor and, as a bonus, the police chief. And, like good old Ruskets, they even tucked in a prize — a photo, which portrayed me unmistakably gripping the steering wheel of my car ... going 45 mph ... through a 20 mph school zone.

The photo-radar lighting was not flattering; neither was the fine. I had no excuse. I'd been automatically driving along with a pack of cars — all of us in excess of the speed limit — and the good-hearted radar singled me out for the prize. I meekly paid my debt to the court, and have been remarkably good ever since — nearly all the time — for the most part.

Following the crowd has seldom been a good idea. Yet, somehow, inexorably, we are drawn like sheep to crowds of like-minded individuals. Our self-esteem is pampered there with messages that insinuate we are right and everyone else is wrong.

And while we root for the hero who steps into the gap when nobody else has the guts, who we REALLY like is the one who confirms what we already believe. Our tendency is to watch a program, listen to a talk show, read an article — not to broaden our understanding or consider another viewpoint, but simply to affirm our cherished opinions.

The simple wisdom of Proverbs 14:12 cautions us, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end is the way of death." Proverbs 11:14 encourages us to step outside of our own conceit to admit we don't know it all: "Where there is no counsel, the people fall. In the multitude of counselors, there is safety."

Ignoring the speed limit — especially in a school zone — not only costs money, but imperils the safety of all around us. Abrogating good judgment for even one moment may reap results that can never be erased.

So, in the future, in my car, in my church, in front of the television ... wherever I am, I'll think twice before I join the crowd.

"While we root for the hero who steps into the gap when nobody else has the guts, who we REALLY like is the one who confirms what we already believe."

October 01, 2010 / Let's Talk