Ctrl+C, or Cmd+C for Apple lovers, are two keys commonly used on our keyboards when wishing to do one thing.. and that’s copy. Whether a picture, some text, a video – that’s what it’s for. But we do it on a much larger scale too – humans are basically copying machines. Hear me out for a second, okay..
Picture my imaginary friend George sat on a boat that is sailing down a river.
This is where all the boats travel, so much so that they follow each other in a line. It is the role of the front boat to not only spot problems ahead but to signal how to respond to danger to the boats behind. So what does George and the other boats do? The front boat steers left and they all steer left. The front boat veers right, they all go right. All the boats are just copying what is working for everyone else. Either out of fear of rejection or fear of the unknown, George wouldn’t dare deviate from what the crowd is doing.
Well, George is me! And might be you, too! This same thing happens all the time. I want to eat what others are eating, I want to dress like others are dressing. Don’t get me wrong – I do benefit from knowing what the crowds are following, like using popularity ratings to know the restaurants that are worth running to and those that will give me the runs. But far more worrying is that we are blindly following what others are doing without thinking for ourselves.
Heard of herd behaviour? Well that is exactly that.
Humans don’t herd together by accident. In terms of following society’s rules – it’s why cars stop at red lights, why children attend school and why adults get jobs – this works great. In the face of danger, we group together for safety and in uncertain situations, we follow what the crowd is doing. But here is where herd behaviour takes over and suddenly there is no thinking involved – it’s the reason why so many people followed Hitler down the path of destruction.
You would have heard the saying “don’t be a sheep”. Well, sheep are born with the natural instinct to follow other sheep – they would chase after each other in a field, they would follow each other off a mountain. To be completely honest, it is a bit unfair for the sheep because the same behaviour is also found in cows. Yet I never hear “don’t be a cow” … unless for very different reasons, haha!
I had a much simpler saying taught to me when growing up. That was “no”.
“Dad, can I please buy cool trainers like everyone else?”
“Mum, can I please get a phone? All my friends have one?!”
I didn’t get my first phone until after 16 by the way, so you can see how rubbish my negotiation skills were. Up until this point, I would always die from embarassment when attending parties only to borrow the mobile of a primary schooler to make that ‘pick me up’ call home. Thank God, those years are behind me!
But in essence, all the things our parents said “no” to were early warnings to not follow the crowd. I so badly wanted to join most of my friends in attending dance and musical classes but did my Dad listen? No, he plonked me in Karate. I was not happy and I made sure he knew it. But it took me a few years to understand that my parents weren’t being different for the sake of it – they wanted me and my sister to see that we were every bit as strong as our two brothers doing it. And it worked. I was learning I was strong, physically and mentally – more importantly, I was building character.
It’s this character that helped me through school and university. I was able to pick the right friends, I was able to work hard and stick to what I wanted to do. At university, drinking was such a large part of student culture, no one could understand why I didn’t drink. It was either I was super religious, super snobby or just plain boring. I wasn’t any of those things (or, so I hope) but I’d still always hear: “So, like.. why don’t you drink though?”. I wasn’t alone with this and so didn’t let other people change my mind but peer pressure sure made it tough on others.
As an adult though, I’m constantly struggling with peer pressure. I love social media, but man it sucks! It might be because growing up, the most social thing I knew was MSN. On social media, it is the role of advertisers to show you what makes a ‘perfect’ person happy. So there I am thinking – it’s easy – this girl looks happy and she’s skinny so maybe I should just lose weight. The same pressure goes for finding the right job, keeping up with trends and finding the perfect partner. I find it so hilarious that our parents are the first ones to tell us not to follow the crowd but are also the first ones to tell us to hurry up when they hear news of our friends getting engaged. Ironic, right? But it’s also society – the expectation to get a job, to get married, to buy a home and to have children. Sure, I’ve ticked the first box but am nowhere close to ticking off the others – and even then, what if I wanted it in a different order or wanted different boxes altogether?
Standing up for what we believe in – even if it’s difficult – isn’t only right, it’s essential! Take Nicolaus Copernicus back in the 1500s. Copernicus was a mathematician and astronomer and was the first modern European scientist to propose that the Earth went around the Sun. This was going against the Church’s popular belief at the time that it was the other way around. It wasn’t until 200 years later that Copernican theory was embraced – changing mankind’s view of the universe forever. But how easy would it have been for Copernicus to be a ‘George’ and follow what everyone else believed? This shows that no matter what everyone else is doing – if we believe in something, we should run with it!
And a twenty first century example happened just last week. My brother thought it would be fun to prank his friend coming over to our house for the very first time. The idea was for his friend to walk in to our lounge while the whole family would be sat staring and laughing at the TV. The twist was the TV would be off! So here enters my brother’s friend who scans the room awkwardly and instead of conforming to what we were all doing – turned to the television and shouted “I love this show”. We found it hilarious haha – smart kid!
I see value in taking advice, inspiration and lessons from others but I’m going to start by saying no to following crowds blindly. It’s the best thing I can do. Acting without thinking is like shooting without aim – I have to start doing what Ed Sheeran sings about – thinking out loud. I have to take control and start learning for myself – I want to be like that frustrating kid that always asks “why”. It’s how I will be able to form my own opinions. Instead of accepting what we’re taught whether in life or at work, we should respectfully challenge – if we can think of better ways of doing something, people will thank us for it.
Don’t take this too literally and start to go against the crowd by driving on the other side of the road. That will surely get you recognised but perhaps not for the best of reasons? What I mean is we can’t be afraid to travel in the way we want, there will always be people that tell us, “that can’t be done”. The truth is, it can.
This is our life and every choice we make is a brick in the road ahead. So let’s stop being ‘George’, I’ll be me and you be you. Because an original is always worth way more than a copy!