Recently I stumbled upon a blog-article from Steve Dubner, one of the authors of the book “Freakonomics”. The article was titled “Herd Mentality, the Freakonomics of Boarding a Bus”. In the article, Steven Dubner narrates a passage of his every day life…from an economist’s prespective.

Dubner and his daughter ride the bus together…they live in NYC, and as it is the case in most big cities during rush hour; the buses are crowded and full of impatient people trying to get to their intended destinations. For Dubner, the bus stop closest to his house is also a bus stop next to a subway station, which means that the amount of people waiting for the bus tends to be higher at that particular stop than in other bus stops.

I cannot imagine trying to get through a mob of people with a three year old by my side…and apparently Steve couldn’t either…he figured out a way to avoid this situation; by walking 250 yards down to the bus stop located one block before the crowded bus stop…thus avoiding the crowd and increasing his chances of finding seats for himself and his daughter.

As a conclusion to his article Steve Dubner asks himself; “why aren’t more people doing this?” As a good economist, Dubner wonders why more people are not adopting a small change in their commuting habits (walking 250 yards) which would increase their likelihood of finding a seat…do they not mind standing in the bus? Are they intimidated by the prospect of walking 250 yards? What is it?

The answer (according to Dubner) is herd mentality.

What is herd mentality?

Pat Thomas, general curator at the Bronx Zoo explains herd mentality as” the idea that the individual members of a herd relate, behave in a similar fashion,” … “so that they don’t stand out and appear different than their group mates.”

In human experience, herd mentality can describe how people are influenced by their peers to adopt certain behaviors, follow trends, and/or purchase items.

According to Dubner’s blog-article, people would rather stay where the “herd” is (which in this case is the crowded bus stop), than behave differently and act out as individuals…even if this behavior is beneficial for them…

I don’t know about you, but this statement kind of scares me…and makes me wonder:

How much of our life is determined by Herd Mentality ?

Economics, Finance, Fashion, politics, and peer interactions are areas of our lives where herd mentality plays a role in the decisions we make…

Scientists at the University of Leeds conducted an experiment trying to explore the dynamics of herd mentality. In their experiment, they put people in a large hall and instructed them to walk around randomly…however, they had instructed some people to follow a specific route.

The participants were not allowed to communicate with each other…but in the end it turned out that the individuals who had been instructed to walk a certain route were followed by the others…thereby causing the whole crowd to follow the route and walk in an organized way…as opposed to randomly…without communicating!

Several experiments (including this one) conclude that in crowds of 200 individuals, a group of five percent was enough to influence the rest of their peers.


Christ and the Crowds

Why does almost everyone in a crowd adopt the same behavior?  The French sociologist Gustav Le Bon in his research about crowd behavior noticed how crowds foster anonymity (Contagion Theory). Thus, not only do crowds validate a behavior, they also foster anonymity.  They can make people feel protected, but they can also make them feel lost.   

The book of Mark narrates one instance in which Jesus found himself in the midst of a crowd…according to the passage “the crowd was following and pressing against Jesus” (Mark 5:24) and out of nowhere… a woman who was chronically ill approached Jesus and touched the edge of his cloak.

As he was walking in the midst of a crowd, Jesus noticed that someone had touched his cloak…and he asked “who touched my clothes?”

The disciples were baffled by this question…they answer “you see the people crowding against you (bumping into you) and yet you ask ‘who touched me’” (Mark 5:31)…I can see the disciples almost asking Jesus “are you kidding???”

But Jesus wasn’t kidding…he continued to look around, until the woman who had been healed came forward and kneeled before him…

Jesus didn’t let the woman get lost in the crowd…he recognized her and showed empathy and compassion towards her.  Her action stopped Jesus in His track, and Jesus’ response towards her changed the trajectory of her life from a downward spiral to a life of hope.

The woman who “had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse”(Mark 5:26)  was set in a new direction by Jesus’ words when he told her;  “Daughter, your faith has healed you, Go in peace and be freed from your suffering” (Mark 5:34)…those are beautiful words… especially considering that this woman had been waiting to hear those words for over 10 years.

We can see in the bible several instances in which Christ interacted with the crowds…he spoke to multitudes, he fed those multitudes, he walked through the crowds…he was used to dealing with lots and lots of people at the same time… and contrary to what research shows about people’s tendency to get lost in the crowd and adopt a herd mentality, Jesus never ever allowed himself to get lost in the crowd and he also never allowed anybody else to get lost either…

According to scripture, when Jesus saw the crowds, “he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”(Mat 9:36) Jesus said of himself; “I am the good shepherd, I know my sheep and my sheep know me…I lay down my life for the sheep”. (John 10:14)

These verses shed so much light into Jesus relationship to the crowds…he sees himself as the Shepherd and the crowds are the sheep; a Shepherd doesn’t follow the sheep, he leads them, and he also cares for them…for a shepherd, sheep are never anonymous…and each one of them has great value in his eyes.

Matthew 18:12-14 explains this shepherd-sheep relationship in the following way:

“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep,
and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine
on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?
And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep
than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off.
In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that
any of these little ones should be lost.”

Jesus, just like a good shepherd, will not let anybody get lost in the crowd…he will not let you or me get lost…

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you and watch over you”
Psalm 32:8

It is important to notice that the relationship of the shepherd to his sheep is not one sided, it is mutual. The shepherd tends his sheep, but he is able to do so because the sheep recognize and follow the shepherd. Jesus said “my sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me” (John 10:28)

How can we as sheep listen to Jesus our Shepherd?

1. By Reading God’s Word

“ All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching,
rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,
so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for
every good work:”

2nd Timothy 3:16-17

“Sanctify them in your truth, your word is truth”
John 17:17

I am sure most of us have daily routines in which we set time apart to meet with friends, go to the gym, study…etc…we can do the same with the word of God…set time apart to read and meditate on it.

A good resource which can be easily incorporated into our routine are the email-devotionals…a few suggestions for subscriptions are “Our daily bread”, or in touch…

Once you start receiving the devotionals in your email…you can dedicate a few minutes while you sit on your computer to read and meditate on God’s word…

2. By listening to the Holy Spirit within us

Another way in which God speaks to us is through the Holy Spirit within us….the bible says;

“But when he, the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.”
John 16:13

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived
what God has prepared for those who love him, but God has
revealed it to us by his Spirit”
1 Corinthians 2: 9-10

How does the guidance of the Holy Spirit look life in our daily life? Author Bruce Main introduced a good expression to explain the way the Holy Spirit guides us…

In his book ”Holy Hunches”, Main notices that on several occasions people have been guided in their daily life by means of hunches or nudges… it is not a fire bush talking to them, it is that inner prompting to do something…”to put our faith into action”… he says “God-inspired (Holy) hunches can happen to ordinary people doing ordinary things”…that’s a pretty broad category; it includes everyone….

I like the expression “Holy Hunch”…because it is not something we hear with our ears, or see with our eyes…it comes to us as the verse in Corinthian says…by his Spirit…to our spirit.

God is on the line wanting to speak to us….are we listening?

Who belongs to the top five percent?

Experts in the study of change call the individuals who embrace a new trend and adopt a different behavior the trendsetters or innovators.

Trendsetters and innovators are the first ones in a group to follow a specific direction a.k.a the top five percent…

Trendsetters/innovators are followed by the early adopters, afterwards comes the early majority, followed by the late majority, and lastly, the laggards.

Several studies confirm that any group behavior will follow this progression;
1. innovators/trendsetters, 2. early adopters, 3. early majority, 4. late majority and 5. laggards.

Jesus calls us to be innovators…he wants us to be part of the crowd, but not led by the crowd…

“For God gave us not a spirit of fearfulness;
but of power and love and discipline.”
2nd Timothy 1:7

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow
of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me”
Psalm 23:4

King David said “the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…” it is my prayer that we also experience God’s provision and guidance in our life as we follow his voice with renewed purpose.