Louis Armstrong was asked if he objected to the many impersonations of him by singers and comedians. "Not really,” he replied with a shrug, “A lotta cats copy the Mona Lisa, but people still line up to see the original."
Everybody is an ‘original’. But most people, consciously or unconsciously, hide their uniqueness in order to better blend in with the herd. Even those that pride themselves on not fitting in with society, have sometimes merely chosen a smaller herd to belong to and cling to its ideals all the more fiercely.
tendency to sacrifice individuality to the demands of the group
can manifest itself in many ways - dress codes, shared language,
interests, activities, viewpoints and lifestyle. Even for those
few that break free from one clique, it is all too often just to
immerse themselves in a new group identity.
Several years ago in Austin, I was waiting to cross a busy commercial street called “the Drag” across from the University of Texas campus. I got a first-hand experience of the herd mentality. I was surrounded by 20 to 30 college students waiting for the pedestrian crossing light to turn. Next to me, a young man was looking left and right intently. I followed his gaze to see what he was watching – an approaching gap in the cross traffic. I knew his intention. If he timed it perfectly and walked briskly, he could cross against the light. Being in no hurry, I decided to wait for the light.
as the traffic gap opened he stepped out with bold, long strides,
easily making it to the other side. To my horror, dozens of students
on either side of me blindly followed him into the path of oncoming
traffic. They were ambling along, talking and oblivious to their
danger and the squealing of tires as four lanes of traffic tried
to stop. Fortunately, all of the drivers were paying attention and
no pedestrians were hit.
To my left I noticed another pedestrian who had not stepped out with the herd. Sensing a kindred spirit, I said “Well, you don’t see that everyday.” Shaking her head sadly, she replied “Oh… yes you do.”
I understand the desire to immerse oneself in the collective. It feels safer than standing alone and exposed. But that is the trap. We often choose to feel safe at the expense of actually being safe. In truth, the individual standing alone at a busy intersection is more likely to look left and right before crossing, knowing that no one else is looking for them.
Choose to value individuality over mindless conformity, and liberty over the illusion of safety that membership in a herd affords you. Then you will find the freedom to look within yourself to discover who you are. In so doing you share with the world the gift of an authentic life lived.
“Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” - Howard Thurman
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