Sunday, December 16, 2012

Who Do We Listen To?

There has been a great outcry -- and rightfully so -- over the tragedy in Connecticut.  And it has caused me to do some reflecting...  Who do we listen to about this?  And who do we choose to listen to about life events and life philosophies, in general?  How can we make wise decisions in this area?

There was a lady I knew during the years in which I home schooled my kids.  She was beautiful, intelligent, and extremely opinionated.  She was also an assertive individual.  I came to view her as a "pied piper" type of character.  Whatever she said -- whether based in actual fact or not -- everybody in our social circle seemed to believe.  And once my fellow home schoolers heard her opinions and "bought into" them, they were pretty much immune to any other way of thinking.  A bit of a pack mentality, if you will.  And she was definitely the alpha dog.  I found this pretty fascinating to observe.  I also found it quite painful at times. (think: Y2K hysteria)

Observing this phenomenon, I had to ask myself a couple of questions:
     1.  Why didn't I believe her when everybody else did?  It certainly would have made life easier.  I would have experienced more acceptance in the group.  As it was, people were nice to me.  I had friends.  But, I didn't really feel like I fit in as I would have if I had followed along.  And --
     2.  Why did everybody else buy into what she said, seemingly so easily?

I also had an experience during roughly this same time period, in which I was royally duped by another individual.  When I think about it, there were plenty of warning signs that this person was arrogant, manipulative, and dishonest.   Eventually, I got a clue.  But, not before significant harm had been done to me and mine.

So, I had to ask myself these questions:
     1.  Why did I trust this person, in spite of many "red flags?"  And --
     2.  Why did certain other people realize, much more quickly than I did, that this individual was up to no good?

My conclusions?

I think there are various factors which influence us to listen to and follow someone.  Certainly, we tend to more easily listen to someone who is attractive, confident, assertive.  Someone with "leadership skills."  And some people are natural leaders.

But, that doesn't explain it all.  Obama has these qualities, but not everybody is willing to listen to or follow him.  Reagan had these qualities.  And -- again -- not everybody was drawn to him.  The two people I just described above had these qualities, too.  Yet, I was willing to listen to one and not the other.

So, what else is going on here?

I think we tend to follow "natural leaders" -- people with objective leadership abilities, who want to lead, who are somewhat "larger than life."  But, perhaps we are drawn to those leaders who embody, at least for the most part, our own world-view.  Our own ideas about how life should be lived, about how society should function, about faith.  And maybe we also are attracted to those who express sympathy for our personal problems and concerns.  This is probably natural.  But, it can also be dangerous.

When we listen to somebody, when we follow somebody, especially in areas in which we have an emotional investment -- such as the terrible events in Connecticut -- it is difficult to remain objective about the person who is leading us.  We so much want to solve a problem, we so much want be comforted, we so much want to feel safe and secure, that we can lose sight of the negative qualities of the person we are following.  We may allow ourselves to be blinded to those "red flags" that may be appearing, in either the individual or his/her opinions.  We might become so caught-up in the hope that person makes us feel that we do not see the situation clearly.

Now, I do not mean this as a back-handed criticism of Obama or anybody else.  I simply mean that -- whatever your feelings about mental illness and gun control and the proper role of government -- it is important to try to keep some emotional distance from the "pied-pipers" that are popping up.  And it is especially easy for these "pied-pipers" to get a lot of attention these days, due to that wonderful thing known as the internet.  So, before we jump on anyone's bandwagon, let's take a little time to breathe and quiet our quivering nerves.  For, in spite of what some might be saying, we do have time to calm down without missing the opportunity to do something meaningful about gun control.  Maybe something that is actually thoughtful and effective.

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