Is It Wise to Follow the Crowd?
AS MAGNETS attract metal, so crowds attract people. A few persons hurrying through the streets can, in a matter of minutes, swell into a mighty wave of humanity. Individually the members may be decent, respectable citizens, but somehow this often changes when they become part of the crowd.
Robert F. Goheen, president of Princeton University, commented on this after a crowd of students without provocation went wild and left in their wake damage and destruction amounting to thousands of dollars. “Otherwise responsible persons,” he said, “cease to be persons, and in the ‘minds’ of those so involved, the rights and persons of others likewise become obliterated. The collective force of brute impulses rules the moment, and other persons lose significance except as they may chance to stand in the way and so become either interferences to or playthings for the mob. And such are the strange ways of the psyche that even after the event many involved don’t realize what happened to them or to what they have contributed.”
Illustrating the senselessness of a worked-up crowd is an incident last summer in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. A rumor spread that, to promote integration, a film actor had taken a Negro woman to a recently integrated movie theater. A crowd moved toward the theater. Hundreds followed. Soon there was a huge, angry mob hurling bricks, stones and bottles, resulting in a great deal of damage—though the rumor was untrue.
Even when a crowd of worldly people have an apparently innocent motive it may be dangerous and unwise to follow. For example, a few years ago a crowd gathered outside a Chicago hotel to see the then U.S. Vice-President Richard Nixon, who was there with his two daughters. “I was only a few feet away,” the head of police security, Charles Pierson, said. “But the crowd moved in so strong I couldn’t even raise my arms. The girls turned white with fear. If there had been another crowd rush, the girls and the Vice President might have been trampled.”
It is observed that worldly crowds are often influenced by a base, animalistic spirit. During special sales at stores in New York City shoppers have been knocked down and stepped on in the mad scramble to be first. And angry sports crowds, such as the one at the Argentina-Peru soccer game last year, have trampled hundreds of persons to death in a matter of a few minutes. People seem to lose all sense of decency and responsibility when they become part of these crowds.
This is perhaps nowhere more evident than among youth today. Individually they may seem like respectable persons, but when together they often turn into a vicious crowd of hoodlums. Observed an interviewer who talked to many youngsters in trouble with the law: “When they’re all together, they try to talk big. But when they’re alone, they talk more like the kids they really are.” The excuse that each one generally gives for his behavior is: “I was just going along with the crowd.” It is obvious that crowds often have a bad effect on their members. Why is this so?
It is because in crowds persons can satisfy inclinations toward wrongdoing with the salve to their conscience that, since everyone else is doing it, it really must not be too bad. Since the first man Adam’s fall from perfection, the Bible shows that all his descendants have been born in sin and shaped in iniquity. Their natural bent is toward bad. And, unfortunately, the disciplining in righteousness needed to overcome these base inclinations is not found in most crowds. Instead, the standards of the crowd often sink to those of its lowest members, and it is very difficult for others to resist being swept along in the course of wrongdoing.—Ps. 51:5; Gen. 6:5; Rom. 5:12.
Recognizing the dangers of following a crowd bent on evil, God’s law to the people of Israel said: “You must not follow after the crowd for evil ends; and you must not testify over a controversy so as to turn aside with the crowd in order to pervert justice.” And the counsel is given in the Bible proverb: “My son, if sinners try to seduce you, do not consent. If they keep saying: ‘Do go with us . . . ’ do not go in the way with them. Hold back your foot from their roadway.”—Ex. 23:2; Prov. 1:10-15.
This does not mean that all crowds are bad, but it does mean that, before following a crowd, it is wise to make sure where it is heading. Ascertain whether the activities of the crowd are in harmony with what God approves. Do not conclude that, just because so many are following a particular course, it must be all right. The majority can be wrong.
Do not be like those of whom the prophet of God spoke: “There was not a man repenting over his badness, saying, ‘What have I done?’ Each one is going back into the popular course.” The popular course is often not the path of right principle. So the wise thing is to separate from the crowd that ignores God’s righteous standards. Regardless of the ridicule you receive, stick to your decision! Live by right principles and associate with those who do the same!—Jer. 8:6; 1 Pet. 4:4.
These lovers of righteousness have themselves become what the Bible calls a “great crowd.” Just as a crowd whose members are not disciplined in righteousness can sweep you along into a course of wrongdoing, so this crowd of persons who are living by the high standards of God’s Word can be a powerful influence for good in your life. Therefore, put yourself among the people who put God first, those who reject the ways of wrongdoing and pursue what is right. Of them the apostle John said: “I saw, and, look! a great crowd, which no man was able to number . . . And they keep on crying with a loud voice, saying: ‘Salvation we owe to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb.’”—Rev. 7:9, 10.