Standing Apart from the Crowd

I just watched “The Oxbow Incident,” a cowboy movie about an angry mob that hunts down three innocent men and hangs them before there’s a chance for a fair trial. In one scene the posse agreed to “vote” and anyone who wanted to wait for a trial before hanging these men could step away from the crowd.  Out of fifty people, only seven men stood apart to defy the group. Others in the crowd looked a little ashamed but they didn’t have the courage to walk away. And so the men, who turned out to be innocent, were hanged.   

Oxbow Incident

By the way, the man they thought had been killed wasn’t dead after all. He’d just been out of town.  He walked into the saloon to greet the astonished crowd at the end of the movie. They had killed those men based on a rumor.

I’ve been observing crowds all my life, usually in churches. I’ve seen crowds get sad, anxious, giddy, angry, reactive, and just plain stupid. People who were generally thoughtful as individuals could lose their ability to think for themselves when influenced by a crowd.

Preachers, performers, and politicians know how to influence crowds, using different skills, such as humor, anger, a loud voice, etc. A skillful leader can tap into the angst or general excitement in order to stampede the crowd into doing what he wants. 

I have some of those skills and I tried to be careful that I didn’t manipulate my churches with them.  I had other colleagues who were careful, too.  But I also saw preachers who used those skills unscrupulously.  Some liked to machinegun Bible verses at people, not giving them a chance to breathe. Some screeched, cried, sang, and even babbled. And they could get many people to respond at the end of the service by having them come to the altar call, or perhaps write a bigger check for the collection plate.     

I see people getting lost in other crowds, too, such as at sports gatherings, where they are reactive rather than thoughtful.  A  athlete’s exciting performance,  or how well a play is executed, or a ref’s call… can make the crowd’s mood change instantly.  It scares me when they roar inarticulately in protest or approval. I wonder if anyone is thinking at that point, and I usually leave if I can.

And then there’s politics.  I’m not over the last presidential election and in two years we’ll have another.  I don’t like the guy that got elected.  He uses bravado, ridicule,  and taps into people’s fear and anger to move them. But while I may not like him, I’m even more disturbed by others  who try to stampede the masses both for and against him.

It’s probably too much to ask for, but I wish both sides would calm the heck down, talk reasonably, and make deliberate decisions.  

But maybe before we got out into the crowds, just you and I could agree to stay in control of our minds and be responsible for our thoughts and feelings. If someone comes out screaming that the sky is falling and everyone else goes crazy, you and I could look at each other and quietly remind each other that we choose not to play. We’ll think our own thoughts, make our own decisions and do our best to tune out the craziness.  Then as reasonable humans, we can discuss our differences and work out a plan of action. 

Most people will be slaves to the crowd. But you and I… we could stand apart, couldn’t we? 

8 thoughts on “Standing Apart from the Crowd

  1. Oh, yes! I have walked from the blog I’ve most often posted my writing on because of the reactionary mindset of the crowd… and the leaders they allow. I don’t write politically-motivated pieces… or religious for that matter. I see stupid on both sides, keep my head down and mosey along.

    I’m glad you wrote this.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “But while I may not like him, I’m even more disturbed by others who try to stampede the masses both for and against him.”

    As usual, you have a uniquely thoughtful and helpful perspective to share — so many thanks!!! I especially like your not laying responsibility for our present political ills solely at the feet of the White House occupant, but making us pay attention to those of us who are stoking the fires in multiple directions.

    It’s making me think of another de-escalation approach, heard when listening recently to Ram Dass’ “The Importance of Inner Social Action” —

    “You see the person you are fighting as a soul –
    manifesting their karma….
    And you should relate to them as a soul
    and not to their karma.

    “I have a picture of President Trump on my altar
    And my attention is placed on that picture
    And I say to him,
    I haven’t known you as a soul —
    your karma is affecting my karma —
    and now I am talking to the soul.
    You have a heavy burden of karma….
    I feel for you….
    And if I meet you as soul to soul
    I feel compassion for you.
    And we will, soul to soul, examine
    where your karma came from
    and we can rid you of that karma.”
    (minute 16)

    Thanks for adding to these perspectives! How we need them!!!!


  3. Bravo!
    Been a minister for many years, (55) and ceased following the crowd and fads 40 years ago.. But the first 15 I was as guilty as everyone that didn’t think for themselves. I too can’t stomach the current El Presidente and developed the attitude that he is the worst in history. That is until I recently watched a PBS program revealing the antics of our Presidents in history.. And so I just stopped watching more than 15 minutes a day of News. Mostly because everytime I hear his name or listen to his voice I have a bowel movement.. Good for constipation though.. Come to think about it, I suppose that it could be said, the Doc is thinking for himsef.. LOL!

    Bottom line is, another great offering my Brother!

    Liked by 1 person

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