Mark Twain once wrote, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to reform (or pause and reflect).”
Do you ever ask yourself why you do what you do or think what you think? These are beneficial questions to reflect upon every so often.
When you do, you may find the answer to be, at its core, “because that’s what everybody else is doing.”
Following the crowd isn’t always bad. In the macro, people have followed good traditions for centuries and in so doing society has flourished. Traditions that have stood the test of time last, in large part, by following and respecting those that came before.
On a smaller scale, say you’re looking for a good restaurant. You spot one with a line running out the door. Odds are pretty good that the food there tastes great. Given no further information, you may want to follow the crown and give it a try.
However, it’s not always good to follow the crowd. We often advise our children against it. Sometimes it’s obvious the crowd has the wrong idea. I mean, if everyone jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you?
It’s not always obvious, though, whether the crowd is right or what your own motivations are. In and of itself, “because everyone else is doing it,” is an insufficient—at best—basis for many decisions in life.
What’s interesting is that the temptation to follow the crowd is often strong. Recognizing when you’re just following the crowd and not thinking for yourself is a valuable discernment to master—and one to teach your children. Consider some common ways this is reflected in society today.
Credit cards, student loans, car loans, and mortgages seem to many to be inevitable facets of life—necessary evils to living a good life. Doesn’t everyone seem to have at least some debt? Is that a reason to allow yourself to take on debt?
In fact, not everyone has debt. Debt enslaves the borrower and hinders one’s ability to grow wealth. What’s more, it’s possible to be avoided.
Decisions that differ from “the crowd,” like working your way through college, driving an older car, renting or saving up for a modest home, and paying cash for purchases could have lifelong positive effects on your financial life.
Debt is a big problem for a whole lot of people. It makes you wonder how much weight has been given to the idea, “everyone else is doing it.”
Eating the Standard American Diet
Do you want fries with that? Of course, doesn’t everyone?
Despite vast amounts of information about what constitutes a healthy diet—if the prevalence of fast food on the highway and packaged foods on grocery store shelves are any indication (and they are)—why do so many people eat what’s called the “Standard American Diet”?
Just because everyone else’s plates are gigantic, just because the drive-through line wraps around the corner, and just because Oreos come in so many different flavors doesn’t mean any of these choices are good ones.
Alternatives go against the grain, including cooking at home, buying whole foods, swapping sugary drinks for water, and packing your own lunch. People tend to eat whatever everyone else is eating. Social pressure to conform seems particularly intense around meals. Consider what is driving your food decisions and adjust.
Spending Hours Staring at Your Phone
If the crowd was always right, then clearly the best thing we should all be doing is staring endlessly into our phones, right?
As these devices become more and more ubiquitous in every aspect of our lives, the downsides are becoming more and more apparent.
Even today, however, there are alternatives. (They still make flip phones!) Some people even live off the grid. Some people read actual books and printed newspapers. Some people write with pencils and pens. Not everybody is lost in the digital age.
Challenging the Mainstream
Of course there are many aspects of modern life I could point to. Mainstream media seems to be consumed by the masses, but more and more are waking up to the fact that they’re not the best source of information. Doing so is an against-the-grain move.
Having a stay-at-home parent seems like an antiquated notion for many, but is still the very best option, worthy of sacrifice, for many families. Likewise, sending children off to public school is still the norm, but more and more parents are discovering the joys and benefits of homeschooling.
Basic life decisions—how much alcohol to drink, whether you should get married, what music you listen to, whether you should have children, whether you should get a tattoo, and many more—are all ripe for investigating your motivation. Is groupthink part of the equation? Are you thinking for yourself in a clear-headed way or are you being swept away with the tide?
Especially if you find yourself on “the side of the majority,” pause. Reflect. Think for yourself. Model that for your children.