Lemmings and Other Things

October 8, 2011

I was talking to a friend of mine this past week about how fear and misunderstanding lead to a negative impact on minority groups. About how inequality and ignorance still run rampant in our society and about how those things are created and how they perpetuate through generations.

This friend of mine happens to be black. And he made the point that people often say things about people of his race based on what other people say and think. And it humors me and at the same time angers me, that people get so easily persuaded by their environments and their social circles.

There’s always been that ideal that the majority rules. That whatever the majority of society thinks or even believes, that it must be true or righteous. But the real truth is that it isn’t correct at all. Whether or not a majority is right is entirely circumstantial and is really based on the particular situation in which it’s being imposed.

For example, the majority of Americans still neglect a healthy eating habit and unfortunately restrain from adequate exercise. Does this mean that such a lifestyle is correct? No, of course not.

I used to have a history teacher who would often call his students lemmings. Lemmings are small rodents that are notorious for leading one another to their death because their desire to follow each other over powers their ability to think for themselves and perceive danger. As students will often partake in bad behavior when they see their fellow students performing such acts.

I don’t know if he knew it or not, but he was teaching us an immense lesson that we could carry with us for the rest of our lives. How often do we find ourselves persuaded by the majority, to make a decision that’s urged upon us by other large groups of people? Convinced that it’s the right thing to do, simply because a large number of people tell us so?

We cannot allow ourselves to be so easily swallowed by the majority. We have to stand on our own and think for ourselves. We cannot always rely on others to think for us, to answer the questions we have or tell us what we need to do. So many situations in life call for us to do these things on our own. Only then can we honestly say that we fully grasp whatever decision we are making.

To me, there’s no better way through life than to have reason to be accountable for your own actions and thoughts. How blinding and how foolish it is to be so easily led astray out of fear and ignorance. How easy it is to wallow in misunderstanding and be insensitive to diversity when all our decisions are being made for us by other people. It seems so sheepish to me, to be led around like a mindless fool. And yet, so many people do exactly that and are seemingly incapable of realizing it.

It’s such a shame, such an embarrassing road through life. I feel sorry for people like this and at the same time I ponder that perhaps this is best, that they are simply better off being led around, too stupid to think for themselves. They need someone to guide them, to tell them what to do because they are not intellectually capable of doing it for themselves. And then I realize that those who lead, do not always have the best of intentions and that indeed they could lead large numbers of people in very negative and harmful directions. And they do, every day.

The fallout of such perpetuating stupidity is racism, sexism, nationalism, etc. Fear and misunderstanding spread like fire through people who are too ignorant to think for themselves. Society, in whatever part of the world, seems to have a desire to be led, to be taken by the hand and walked through life. People want to be told what their problems are, what they need to do to fix them or even better what someone else is going to do to fix them. This is where things get dangerous.

Hitler rose to power because he gave Germans answers to their problems, he told them and showed them what was wrong with their lives and who was to blame. Racism in America is not entirely a different beast. Working class Americans want to blame someone or something for their problems and so when someone suggests a target, it spreads. We’ve all heard of such things like African Americans being too lazy to work and that they all live off welfare and that it’s hurting our country because they live off the rest of us, or how Mexicans are ruining our job market by illegally entering the country and taking all the jobs away and not paying taxes.

African Americans living in poor neighborhoods has a lot to do with family income, lack of family stability, lack of education and the lack of opportunity. However, we have to keep in mind that not all African Americans are subject to this. Many do very well and stereotyping an entire race is one of many ways Americans assert their stupidity. African Americans only make up about 14% of the U.S. population.

What really needs to be done is work in poor neighborhoods to give black youth a better chance at receiving an education, constructive and positive activities within the community and equal opportunity in employment. The environment in which at risk youth grow up in, greatly influences their adult life.

Mexicans flee their homeland because they stand a better chance at making a living here in the U.S. Between the threat of drug lord violence, crime in general, education concerns and unemployment, it’s easy to see why they escape to American soil. Getting a green card or visa is not an easy task and not to mention that it costs money. Many of the people crossing the border cannot afford to enter this country legally. The jobs they take, everything from hard labor to migrant farm work and factory work are jobs most Americans wouldn’t take anyway and their pay is cheaper than if those companies had hired Americans.

So is it a problem? Yes, of course it is. They should not be allowed to enter or stay in the country illegally, they need to be documented and given citizenship. The process is flawed and needs to be fixed. They should want to be legal citizens and not have to fear being deported. For some Mexican families, their primary source of income is from a family member living and working in the U.S.

Far too often we like to point the finger at people and tell them how they cause problems. How they make our lives worse. What we should do instead is spend our energy finding ways to fix these problems. And real answers, not extreme actions that cause more harm than good. The right path is never the easy one and it’s hardly ever attractive.

We must accept responsibility for ourselves and make choices using our own judgment and not someone else’s. It is so easy to destroy, but it takes dedication, hard work and time to create. Instant gratification or an instant fix is not logical. Problems rarely ever happen in a moment, they arise through various issues over time and they are never fixed instantly. Not months and likely not years. Something I see in our country right now is how people are expecting this nation’s problems to be fixed right away. These problems didn’t just happen out of nowhere, we’ve been wandering in this direction for decades and we need to wake up and accept that it’s going to take just as long to recover.

The most important thing is a plan. To have a logical answer to our problems and have the resolve to stick to that plan and see it through. After that, it’s simply going to take time and the will to do whatever we have to in order to make it through the hardships we all will surely have to face.

So as you carry on with your life, remember that no one is more responsible for your life than you. That the decisions you face and the questions you have should be addressed by you and what you have learned. Knowledge is a book and books are useless when not read. It’s when they are used that they become useful tools, the same way that knowledge becomes useful when it is applied to our lives. Knowledge in use is what I call wisdom.



This essay is available as an audio track on SoundCloud:

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