“If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you jump off after them?”
The boy with the burr cut rolls his eyes. The red-headed lady is at it again with her tired old saws. All he wants to do is to go with a few of the boys in his class to the local burger joint for lunch. The elementary school where he is acquiring an education (of sorts) will allow him to leave the campus if he can finagle a signature out of his mom. She isn’t such an easy mark for his charm though, having had three older sons from whom to gain experience before his weak attempt. The young man’s stock argument, “All my friends are going,” is one she has heard many times before, and it draws only the dreaded cliff response from her. He is frustrated. As usual, the motorboat starts up.
“But, but, but…what do you mean, jump off a cliff? All we want to do is go to Burger Chef!” He might as well be arguing with a rock. The red-head is not going to be budged from her refusal and, with a few muttered words about never getting to do anything, the urchin stomps away. He just can’t understand…No…he doesn’t want to understand what her words mean, because he might have to admit that she is right. It will be years later, when he has children of his own, before he will sit and work out the reasoning. And finally, it will become crystal clear to him. For now though, he is the odd man out. All his friends really are going. He will just have to suffer alone in the cafeteria as they enjoy a trip off campus to the popular hangout.
There will be other (and much worse) instances when he will follow the leader and the pack into places and activities which should have been avoided. The red-head’s words were said in hopes that those circumstances could be steered clear of later on. Alas, the heart of the youth is turned to pleasure and not to virtue. The cliff would be jumped off of in pursuit of the approval of the crowd and the enjoyment of life. His mother is vindicated, if not satisfied, and the sadder but wiser boy will have to learn his lessons the hard way. It will take many years for the education to be completed.
Just yesterday the rascal, all grown up now, along with his Lovely Lady, had a chance to see the cliff principle in action again. It was very nearly fatal (although happily, not for them). They were traveling to a nearby town on an errand when the event took place. The traffic light they were coming to was green and the pickup truck in the lane ahead of them was nearly to the signal when an approaching car suddenly turned left in front of it. That was surprising enough, but since the car beat the truck through the intersection, the couple breathed a sigh of relief. But, they were shocked to see that the next oncoming car followed the first one across, right into the path of the pickup truck. Immediately, there was a huge collision and the pickup and car spun around. The grown up rascal had safely braked their car to a stop, but it seemed certain that there would be injuries in the accident, so he called 911 before getting out and heading to the place where the mangled vehicles had come to a stop. For a wonder, no one was hurt seriously, but all the parties involved were definitely shaken up. The young lady who had been driving the car at fault took quite some time to calm down. After giving a statement to the police, our couple headed back down the highway again, a bit shaken themselves.
How does this demonstrate the cliff principle, you may ask? The answer is quite clear. The first driver who turned in front of the pickup truck was aware of what he was doing. He saw a break in the traffic and, judging that there was ample space for them to sneak across, sped through the intersection without mishap. The driver of the second car was completely oblivious to the oncoming traffic, but saw only the tail end of the car before her. Since she was tailing the other car through the intersection, she met with an entirely different fate. Following a vehicle ahead blindly puts a driver at tremendous risk, often with calamitous results. So also, following anyone blindly puts us at risk, regardless of the activity in which we are involved.
Peer pressure is a funny thing. What is it about the words, “C’mon. It’ll be fun!” that drives all thought of consequences out of our minds? “Don’t worry. No one will ever know,” runs a close second. I can’t begin to communicate the disastrous results I’ve seen, both through personal knowledge and from second-hand reports. Property has been damaged, arrests made, bodies battered, and relationships permanently broken, to name just a few; all because people follow others without thinking and without objecting. I watch kids following a strong leader and realize that often it is the followers who pay the price. The same is true of adults who play the follow-the-leader game, but the price paid is usually much higher and more permanent.
It is almost certainly a discussion you’ve had before and I’ll not spend too many more words on it. Peer pressure is not always bad. Many times, it leads to good decisions, as our friends convince us to shape up, to use good judgment where we have erred before. Often, we benefit from the wisdom of those with whom we associate, especially if we have chosen our companions for the right reasons. Alas, that is not always the case and frequently, our old pals lose their moral bearings. For some reason, it is all too common, when that happens, for them to convince their friends to follow them off the path of wisdom and virtue. Truly, it is said that “misery loves company.” When morals are jettisoned, the first thing the miscreant wants to do is to convince others to join him or her. If one believes that a friend has lofty ideals simply because they always have had them in the past, it is easy to veer off of the road into the oncoming traffic of destruction and pain when they do it. We ourselves must be aware of what is right and what is wrong. We must be able to refuse to follow even our closest friends if they lead us into questionable activities. We will be responsible for our own actions, regardless of who urged us down the path.
I’m not a kid anymore, but I still find myself wanting to follow the crowd. Experience tells me that this is not a wise approach to life. The blind who follow the blind will come to an obvious and abrupt end. The cliff of my mother’s tired example is very real and the pit beyond it awaits its victims eagerly.
I’m working at keeping my eyes open and following a trustworthy and faithful Guide. Even at that, I ask questions frequently and watch for oncoming traffic. I hope you’ll do the same. It just makes sense to keep your eyes open.
I’ll be looking for another way down the precipice, thanks! I’ve been told that it’s not the fall, but the sudden stop that’s the real problem…
“…A blind man cannot guide a blind man, can he? Will they not both fall into a pit?”
“To map out a course of action and follow it to an end takes courage.”
(Ralph Waldo Emerson~American poet/essayist~1803-1882)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.