I have found the reaction of people to recent events both interesting and disturbing at the same time.
Individuals have been inspirational while crowd have been doing what crowds always do.
Individuals end up doing heroic things often in critical situations. Crowds tend to panic. The herd mentality takes over causing all rationality and thinking to cease, at least for some time.
A crowd can be either all together in one physical location – we see crowds at rallies and protests. But I think crowds can be in one location in different ways as well. I have a theory that a crowd can exist digitally. When I read and see posts on Facebook to recent events, often what I observe is people taking on the herd mentality. People start posting simplistic themes and posts or memes based on fear or anger. Simplistic solutions show up. Scapegoating and blaming are unleashed like a pack of rapid dogs. When people see others doing this, it appears to us that this is the norm and our thinking turns off. We don’t question what the posts are trying to convey because they often reinforce preconceived ideas, but in a more simplistic way.
I’m listening to an audio book by Malcolm Gladwell – “What the dog saw.” It’s a compilation of many stories that Gladwell has written over the years. In the one story, he talks about the idea of choking – someone losing a lead in sports because they “choked,” and lost. He contrasts this with panic. He defines choking as a person thinking too much about something – reverting back to amateur status when an athlete has to think through ever step of what ever it is they are doing. They aren’t professional anymore, they act like they are just beginning again. Panic on the other hand is when our thinking turns off. Survival becomes our entire focus. We will do things that potentially harm others if it means we have a better chance at survival.
What I observe from the reactions of people to recent events is a bit of digital panic. And I wonder, does this have to be? Where are the people who are calling us to come out of panic and to start thinking. Where are the people who help us rise to our better selves? Where are the people who break our gaze from the blinders that focus on self-preservation to things much more long term?
I didn’t watch President Obama’s speech so I really can’t comment on it. I’ve read one commentator’s remarks about his speech – he said that it reminded him of President Carter. If that’s true, that’s not hopeful in anyway.
I pray for our leaders that God grant them the wisdom to speak words of calm to a panicked crowd.