Lemmings: the True Hollywood Story

Lemmings are rodents that herd themselves into grazing areas, eat up all the food and take down all the resources, reproduce like maniacs, and then en masse throw themselves off cliffs. They are nature’s “mob instinct” examples. They are metaphors for following the crowd, for your Mom’s question, “If Johnny jumped off the bridge would you do that, too?” Or at least, that’s the myth.

In reality, they’re strong, they’re good swimmers, and they’re adaptive creatures trying to make the best of whatever situation they collectively find themselves in. All good traits, all admirable qualities. But there’s still that mass suicide thing that I think we as human beings emulate way too much.

I received a twitter reply the other day that brought lemmings to mind: “I’m just doing what everyone else does – and people like it when I do it this way.” I was suggesting an alternative that in the end might be more meaningful, might be less “like everyone else” and might make a bigger splash. At least I wanted to start a conversation along those lines – not taking the suggestion is a total option, but whatever happens next let’s work together to get a better positive vibe going. I like learning from others, like showing others things I’ve learned, and like the back-and-forth conversations where both of us still learn. But “I’m doing it like this because everyone else is doing it” – that just kills the moment, closing the door on possibilities.

Everybody might be right, but sometimes the crowd is leading us to a cliff. I’m thinking the stragglers in the back of the pack, those with a little procrastinating conversation going on, are the only ones with time and perspective to watch the species head over a cliff and be able to make a decision – “um, I don’t think that’s the best alternative there. Let’s get pizza.” The “social” in social media contains the understanding that we’re in this together to learn from each other, to grow in community. Sometimes that means the crowd is wrong and it’s time to make a change for the better. Sometimes that means standing out from that crowd to make a new way.

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