From the beginning of human history as much as archaeologists and anthropologists can surmise from artifacts and other evidence, humans, like many animals, had preferred herds. What I mean by that is, excluding the occasional hermit or mountain man type, humans tend to settle near each other. Whether it be in a cave, a tent, houses, or tee pees, people like each other’s company.
More than that, people of like background, language, religion, and habits tend to cluster together. If you look back at early immigrants to what is now the US, Germans tended to settle in areas where other Germans were. The Irish tended to find places other Irish had put down roots. Likewise with most other immigrant groups. The Puritans, the Quakers, the Scots, etc. This phenomenon is why there is a neighborhood called “Chinatown” in most large cities.
Today, we see this with Hispanic groups. People from Mexico or Guatemala or El Salvador tend to go wherever those who came before them ended up. There’s nothing wrong with this. It is infinitely more comfortable to be surrounded with people who understand your culture, language, and traditions sharing your space. If you need help, it is nearby. If you have trouble with language or anything else, you can find someone with the skills you need.
This herding instinct really becomes a problem when we blindly follow our leader without question or without looking past the bodies to see where we are heading. Joining the herd just because we want a herd doesn’t always result in our best interests being realized. In fact, we can get into big trouble by following the herd. Or by leading it, for that matter, if we don’t adhere to the proper path.
One of the reasons people with addictions fail to unchain themselves from their abusive substances is that they don’t change herds. Going back into the same herd after making the decision to stop a particular behavior, or to start one – eat less, stop smoking, drinking, using, exercise more – will usually result in reverting to the behavior you had before the decision. Sometimes, the herd can be encouraging, but often, you were with that particular herd because they had the same habits as you, and if you go back with them, they will draw you back into the same patterns you had before.
Changing herds can often bring more success than other measures when it comes to breaking bad habits or starting new good ones. If you want to stop eating so much chocolate, quit hanging out with the people who always have it on them. If you want to exercise more, find a herd that frequently exercises. You get the idea.
Is this always practical. No. You can’t switch families or neighbors much of the time, but you can switch friend groups, especially if your current friends are leading you somewhere you don’t want to do. Not that breaking off relationships is easy. It may cause hard feelings, but in the long run, if it is the difference between quitting drugs or alcohol and staying on them, isn’t it worth the risk?
There is a reason those on probation for drug or alcohol related crimes are told not to be around others indulging in their weakness. Eventually, they may grow strong enough to resist when confronted by their Achilles’ heel, but until that time, avoidance is usually the best policy. Are you the only one of your friends who’s looking around to see what’s really going on. Is everybody else just going along because that’s what the rest are doing? If so, maybe it’s time to let them in on the scoop. Following for the sake of following isn’t where it’s at. You should always know why you’re doing something. If there’s no purpose, then why do it? Or if the purpose brings unwelcome consequences, then I ask again, why do it?
No amount of peer pressure is worth destroying your life or someone else’s to indulge in something that at the time you may think will fill you up or relieve your pain, but in the end only, ALWAYS, causes more. Don’t let your peers herd you in the wrong direction. Only follow if you know what lies around the next bend is beneficial.
What have you been ‘herded’ into trying that turned out to be a bad idea? How have you dealt with the herd mentality of your friends or peers? Can herding be positive? What instances of positive ‘herding’ have you experienced? Thanks for all the comments and insights. I’m looking forward to discussing this with you.