The Comfort of Crowds

Why is it so easy for us to be a part of something rather than start out on our own? Why are we so comfortable with people who echo our opinions rather than those who refute them? Why do we seek out the easiest way around problems – whether they are in relationships, at the workplace or out in the street?

Our instinct for self-preservation is much stronger than the urge to innovate. Blending in allows for obscurity, not probing. It’s the same fear that terrorises us when we have to go up on stage in front of an audience. Whether it is ten people or a thousand, being the focal point of attention makes us queasy. The pulse races, conflicting emotions jostle with one another and we hyperventilate when the audience is made up of peers. We are dismayed and elated at the same time. We are never as self-aware as when we are out there, especially when the stakes are high. And if we aren’t able to sustain audience interest, panic sets in. Even though we detest it, we can’t stand to be ignored.

Popular actors never get over the distasteful feeling of being followed or stalked. They hate it when they are the target of paparazzi, the photographers who make a buck by catching celebrities in more ‘normal’ situations like shopping and picking up children from school. But its equally terrifying when the hangers-on, the crowds and the adulation disappears. Damned, if you do and if you don’t.

It’s hard to embrace loneliness and believe in one’s own ideas unless they are echoed or encouraged by our close circle. Which is why the world has enough average people and only the occasional brilliant one. Too much at stake. And while we all dream of coming up with the next billion-dollar idea and company, we’re too chicken to act on it. The best part of an idea is the thinking bit. The doing is a whole lot of work that may or may not yield results. Too much uncertainty there to provide comfort. We want our salaries on the first of every month so that we can dream of what it feels like to own a big business. We don’t make the effort, we make excuses. The fact is, we are comfortable where we are. There’s too much heartache, heartburn, and failure in being a maverick. Mediocrity is comforting. We’ll take what we get easily.

So crowds will always add up to an average. And the average need not be right, it’s only an average. Come to think of it, we may have moved a few millenia ahead in terms of technology and our living standards but it’s still easy to offend. We still like to be with those who speak our language and have the same skin colour. We make fancy statements like we are living in a global village and the world has become smaller. Yes, it has, but we still cling to the vestiges of our tribal, Neanderthal origin. The more uniform the crowd, the more comfortable we feel being a part of it