The primary reason we don’t stand out from the herd is because of a fear. A fear that we might fail, a fear that we might not be accepted, a fear that we will be criticized. It is true that it’s always much safer not to stand out than it is standing apart. The number one regret that people have on their death bed is, “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
I once hosted Dr. Mordechai Kedar to give a lecture in our community. Dr. Kedar is an Israeli scholar of Arabic literature and a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University. He also served for twenty-five years in the IDF Military Intelligence. He shared one anecdote that has always remained with me. He was once taking a train from New York to Washington D.C. to give a briefing to some department. He was sitting next to a woman and they exchanged greetings and what they each do. She said she was an anthropologist. Dr. Kedar asked her, “As an anthropologist, how would you describe the American people.” She responded very simply, “They are sheep.” Whether there’s any truth to that or not I’ll leave up to you as I’m not an anthropologist and that’s a sweeping generalization. The reason why this anecdote struck me was that it made me revisit how often I act as a sheep, as a follower of the herd, in place of standing out from the herd.
The primary reason we don’t stand out from the herd is because of a fear. A fear that we might fail, a fear that we might not be accepted, a fear that we will be criticized. It is true that it’s always much safer not to stand out than it is standing apart. There’s no risk and of course, there’s no gain. This fear very real. We will sacrifice shining the very light that G-d endowed us with, the entire purpose of our unique existence so as not to stand out. We will spend our lives surviving amongst the herd instead of thriving outside of the herd because of this very real fear. I try to be very conscious of this and always think about what it would feel like to know at the end of one’s life that they didn’t shine their unique light.
You may be familiar with the book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. The very top regret, the number one regret that people have on their death bed is, “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” I don’t want to be one of those people with that regret. Do you? Statistically, we will be one with that regret. This is why we need to exert tremendous energy to break away from the herd. The good news is that we are each our own statistic and it’s all a matter of choice.
You may have read about or even remember the 1948 elections. November 3, 1948, was Election Day, Dewey versus Truman. The polls, the media, and the experts predicted an easy victory for Dewey. The Chicago Tribune had to go to print early due to a new form of printing that they adopted earlier that year. To stay ahead of the competition the managing editor had to decide on the headline for the paper before Election Day was over. Should he trust the experts? He decided “yes,” so he ran with the headline, “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN.” Two days later, when Truman was handed a copy of the early edition en route to Washington, he grinned and posed for the cameras with the paper, making this headline one of the most famous in print history.
Research indicates it’s a natural tendency to follow the herd. Studies demonstrate how most groups naturally follow the majority. If individuals have information, even if there are many with this information, they will still follow the majority even if that information is contradictory to the majority. Perhaps due to the influence of social media, researchers have seen how people have become even more susceptible to the herd mentality and overly influenced by their neighbors, rather than rely on their own instinct, spending too much time copying one another, and not making their own decisions.
So what’s the message?
The very first Jew was known as Avraham Ha”Ivri, Abraham the Ivri. Ivri means from the other side. While the world had one view, Abraham had another. His entire identity became intertwined with the character of holding his own, formulating his own view and not being swayed by another. He remains one of the most influential leaders of all time whose influence still pervades throughout the world today. He was the first in his day to recognize a monotheistic G-d and stopped worshipping idols. Try and imagine the enormous fears he must’ve have to overcome to stand by his position. He knew that this was his light, the light he was created for, the light he must shine in the world. Abraham didn’t regret his life. He truly lived it.
To live by our values and not by societal values nor by our friend’s expectations is living a life that is true to ourselves. Break away from the herd! The great American political commentator Will Rogers said, “Always drink upstream from the herd.”
I’ve noticed how even when I’ve chosen to stand outside the herd, I still carry the fear of the herd with me and in shows up in my timidness. Yet I’ve also noticed how the herd never likes those who step away from them until you actually do. Once you step away, you gain their greatest respect. This is because in the heart of every man is the desire to shine his or her light in the world yet they often don’t find the strength to do so. And when they see someone that does, they are inspired and motivated once again to run from the herd.
So I leave you with this question. What is one thing you need to do in your life that will take you one more step away from the herd?