One of the first lessons we learn in life is to follow the crowd.
Nobody has to tell us this. The cruelty of group dynamics — frequently not examined consciously — pull us and prod us to conform. And because we like the praise of the crowd and fear the crowd’s ridicule, we innocently become sheep — following the herd almost anywhere it goes.
The crowd isn’t very smart or deep. The crowd isn’t very reflective. The crowd follows whatever shiny new thing comes along. For many reasons, following the crowd takes us further and further away from becoming the individuals we were born to be. But because most people are so busy following the crowd — and pursuing the pleasure which the crowd glorifies — they almost never notice this.
I was never a compete crowd-follower. I was proud of being more independent than most. But I eventually realized I was suffocating without meaning. I had accepted too much of what the world — the crowd, really — had given me.
And now that I’ve slowly started asking more and more questions — and finding answers which might as well be unknown tongues to the crowd — I fear that I’m on a path on which nobody I care about will follow.
I don’t want “followers.” I don’t want to tell people what to do. I don’t want to force people to find meaning as I’m finding it. But I also don’t want to walk this path alone. As I walk toward more meaning and beauty and transcendence, I want someone to share it with me — and my heart aches to be walking it alone.
As I get further down this path — one which seems increasingly foreign to all that the crowd knows — I fear that those I might love — one I might love — will never be willing to leave the approval and cheers of the crowd to find something which is far more meaningful in the end.
My life isn’t yet worth emulating. I can’t say — and won’t say — “You should be like me.” I haven’t arrived at some enlightened place. I doubt I’ll ever fully get there.
But I’ve discovered clues. I’ve discovered bits and pieces. I don’t have a roadmap, but I see part of it — and I know this path leads to meaning and joy, so I desperately want to share it with someone and I want a companion with which to walk it.
The Apostle Paul confessed to knowing only part of the truth when he wrote to the church at Corinth, “What we see now is like a dim image in a mirror; then we shall see face-to-face. What I know now is only partial; then it will be complete — as complete as God’s knowledge of me.” (That’s 1 Corinthians 13:12 from the Good News Translation.)
The world is full of conformists. In the 1995 book, “The Lucifer Principle,” Howard Bloom explained that most of the people in a stable social system must be what he called “conformity enforcers.” They are the people who do things the “normal” way. They’re the people who pursue the crowd’s approval and rarely ask questions that would lead them from the norm.
There were several groups of people in the minority, according to Bloom’s model, but the one which I immediately identified with was the one he called “diversity generators.” They’re the people who try new things and blaze trails. The conformity enforcers don’t like these people, but it’s the diversity generators who stumble upon new truths and new methods — which the crowd later copies.
I have always been a diversity generator, to use Bloom’s term, but the questions I’m asking — and the ruthless truth of reason and morality which I’m discovering — have taken me further off the crowd’s path than ever.
I couldn’t turn back now even if I wanted to. I’ve seen too many bits and pieces of the truth for the rewards of the crowd to be enticing. My ego would still love their approval — and I still hope to make things which they will understand and embrace — but diving into beauty and truth and transcendence has become far more important than my ego being placed onto a pedestal.
I don’t want to walk this path alone, but I look over my shoulder and find no one following. I see no one who understands what I’m pursuing — and what I offer — enough to come with me.
This is all to say something very simple. I am pursuing meaning — in a way that I think can be world-changing in the generations to come — and I’m filled with despair that no one wants to come with me on this exciting path.
That scares me more than any fear I’ve ever had, but there’s nothing I know to do about it.
Note: I can’t explain to you why this sunset photo felt right for this, but it did. It seems to symbolize so much about the beauty and transcendence that lie on the path ahead of me. I took the photo Friday evening just east of Birmingham.