Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Looking for the Cliff

When I was seven years old, we watched a National Geographic special on Lemmings.

Their biggest claim to fame is the fatality of their herd thinking.

From the moment I learned that, whenever I'm in a large group that is moving in mass, and I'm not particularly sure where the final destination is, the word, "Lemmings" rings in my head and I stop moving forward.  People will surge around me, and I don't move until I know where we're going and why.

But I have the same reaction to other large groups.  Pep Rallies where everyone is supposed to feed on each other's excitement.  Working in groups to find answers in a class.  Sometimes while attending church.  Generally speaking, in any situation where a lot of people are together and meant to experience the same emotions, come to the same conclusions, I have a moment where I stop.  I step back.  I become an observer and the word "Lemmings" is clearly in my head-- and I'm looking for the cliff.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to imply that these situations are dangerous.  In most instances, they're people having a great deal of fun together.  But that moment of clarity, and being completely in my head with my personal warning, allows me to see the orchestrator's intentions.  It's recognizing that we're cheering on the team to get them psyched up, excited and ready for the next game.  It's knowing that it's meant to increase empathy and bring the congregation closer together.  And on the flip side, it's not being swept up into buying a share in a condo, when all you want are tickets to shows.  It's avoiding a pyramid scheme or unreasonably risky investments.  It's sticking to the answer you know is right, even when the popular answer is wrong. 

Because it's important to realize that herd mentality is actually mental.  What I mean is, if 'everyone' suggests something to be true, even if it isn't, your brain is actually inclined to change what you know, to fit what everyone else thinks!

Did you know that?  Neither did I.  

Until I read Susan Cain's Quiet when I received a free e-book version through the online book club From Left to Write.

Are you an introvert or extrovert?.Author Susan Cain explores how introverts can be powerful in a world where being an extrovert is highly valued. Join From Left to Write on January 19 as we discuss Quiet: The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain. We'll also be chatting live with Susan Cain at 9PM Eastern on January 26. As a member of From Left to Write, I received a copy of the book. All opinions are my own. 

And it makes me appreciate my personal warning and ambivert nature.


  1. As long as I've known you Janin, I've never thought of you as a lemming!

  2. I was shocked by that finding too! That you can kind of trick yourself into thinking that what everyone else says is right, even when you know it isn't. I really enjoyed this post....got me thinking today :)

  3. That's one of the reasons I dislike doing things in groups - group mentality can be such a pain!

  4. The part of the book where she described the experiments where the participents perceptions changed simply because of the group was fascinating. It made me think of peer-oriented teens and bad decision making skills.

    Best to you!

  5. Wow, what an interesting post. For one thing, I never knew that about Lemmings! I've seen and witnessed and at times taken part of a herd mentality! But like you I've had that little something in the back of my head that made me stop and think, "Are you doing this or thinking this because it's really you or are you being influenced?" Hmmm, makes me think. I've enjoyed your post!

  6. Great take on Quiet! While there are occasions that I enjoy the group spirit, I've never enjoyed the "New Groupthink" as Susan called it. And now, I'm sure Lemmings will pop into my head when the moment comes up!

  7. Lemmings is just a great analogy!

  8. It's like the experiment where two people went inside a relatively full elevator and didn't turn around, they faced the rear of the elevator. Slowly everyone in the elevator turned to face the rear instead of the door. Crazy!


I'd love to hear your thoughts!