Some of us avoid crowds like the plague, but others enjoy the energy that seems to happen in a crowd. Wherever we are on the spectrum, it seems impossible to avoid crowds except for perhaps the months of the pandemic when all the events that create them have been canceled or limited.
We can easily get lost in a crowd or lose someone who is with us. I recall vividly an autumn festival when we were visiting our son and his family. The streets of their small town were cleared of traffic and filled with booths boasting crafts and food of all varieties celebrating the season. There were displays of all sorts and live music venues tucked here and there. We were all enjoying a great stroll through all these things with stops here and there for cider, a candy apple, or a bag of popcorn. Here and there games were set up for children to play and we stopped by most of those as well, but then we all seemed to notice at once that one of us was missing – our three-year-old grandson.
We were frantic! He was the younger of their two children and he had been right with us. The streets were full of people and we had no idea where he may have stopped or how much danger he might be in. The four of us adults split up and started looking for him, retracing steps and praying fervently. When we finally found him, he was sitting on risers set up for a musical group that would play later. He appeared unruffled, but we were all a mess.
We can get lost in a crowd easily at any age, but we can also hide in a crowd and lose our identity on purpose or unintentionally. Our grandson was not hiding, but had simply lost sight of us as he was exploring the adventures of the festival.
When we join our friends to go to a concert of our favorite musical group or to see a favorite team play a sport we love, our focus is on our similar interest, and typically it means being a part of a crowd. We aren’t really hiding, but everything unique about who we are is set aside for that time in the large group. There is a comfortability in it. No one is looking at our attire or makeup or anything we might be concerned about oftentimes.
There are other times this very appeal draws us to want to be in a crowd because we want (for any number of reasons) to hide or feel invisible and have no one pay specific attention to us. And when we do that, we can almost forget what sets us apart as a person and feel “at one” with the crowd.
We lose sight of a truth:
“How distinct are the lenses through which we each perceive the world.”Marie Benedict in Lady Clementine
We may also fail to notice how many ways the crowd is influencing us to be and do things we would never consider were we on our own or with only one or two others. It can happen in any setting where a large group or crowd of people form. It is almost as if we become lemmings and just follow along without paying attention to potential dangers as well as our responsibilities as a person in the midst of the group.
“We cannot avoid being in crowds. Can we keep from being crowd-conditioned? Can we keep from trading our name in for a number, from letting the crowd reduce us to mindless passivity?”
“The crowd makes spectators of us, passive in the presence of excellence or beauty. The crowd makes consumers of us, inertly taking in whatever is pushed at us. As spectators and consumers the central and foundational elements of our being human – our ability to create, our drive to excel, our capacity to commune with God – atrophy.”Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horses
How often many of us heard our parents warn us to be careful of “the crowd” we chose to hang out with. They knew the risks that “the wrong crowd” could bring us. They also knew we might succumb to poor choices we might not routinely make. They knew why it was said “nothing good happens after midnight.” They knew the peer influence and pressure of a crowd. They knew we could get lost in more than one way.
Crowds will happen and happen again, and they are not in themselves “bad,” but it has never been more important to not get lost or lose ourselves to the crowd and its influence. Even in the crowd we represent our family – both biological and spiritual brothers and sisters. If we hold to a spiritual faith, we represent that as well and our choices and behaviors (even in a crowd) matter and may make a difference to all those around us even if we don’t realize or recognize it is true. We will be called to account for our time, our words, and our choices and “the crowd” will not be an excuse for any one of us.
“The moral level of our society is shameful. The spiritual integrity of our culture is an embarrassment. Any part of our lives that is turned over to the crowd makes it and us worse. The larger the crowd, the smaller our lives.”
“…every time we retrieve a part of our life from the crowd and respond to God’s call to us, we are that much more ourselves, more human. Every time we reject the habits of the crowd and practice the disciplines of faith, we become a little more alive.”Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horses