(see also CONFORMITY)
Crowd control is the method of making sure that a large crowd does not get out of hand. But the term may also refer to the control a crowd can
wield over an individual. I was reminded of this in a newspaper article about an old
carnival headliner nicknamed "Cannonball." In his younger days he was blasted
out of a cannon 1,200 times. When asked why he did this, he replied, "Do you know what
it's like to feel the applause of 60,000 people? That's why I did it!"
An old fable that has been passed down for generations tells about an elderly man who was traveling with a boy and a
donkey. As they walked through a village, the man was leading the donkey and the boy was walking behind. The townspeople said
the old man was a fool for not riding, so to please them he climbed up on the animal's back. When they came to the next
village, the people said the old man was cruel to let the child walk while he enjoyed the ride. So, to please them, he got off
and set the boy on the animal's back and continued on his way. In the third village, people accused the child of being lazy for
making the old man walk, and the suggestion was made that they both ride. So the man climbed on and they set off again. In the fourth village, the
townspeople were indignant at the cruelty to the donkey because he was made to carry two
people. The frustrated man was last seen carrying the donkey down the road.
We smile, but this story makes a good point: We can't please everybody, and if we try we end up carrying a heavy
burden. Well-meaning Christians may offer us advice, and much of it is valuable. But
when we try to do everything other believers want us to do, we can easily become
frustrated and confused . That's why we need to remember that the One we must please above
all others is Christ. And we do that by obeying God's Word. Carried any donkeys lately? You
don't have to if you're trying to please Jesus.
We Americans do not adequately appreciate the political process in our nation. During the campaign, I often recounted a
nightmarish 1938 incident from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag
Archipelago, by way of contrast:
A district party conference was under way in Moscow Province. It was presided over by a new secretary of the
District Party Committee, replacing one recently arrested. At the conclusion of the conference, a tribute to Comrade Stalin was called for. Of
course, everyone stood up (just as everyone had leaped to his feet during the conference
with every mention of his name). The hall echoed with "stormy applause, raising to an
ovation." For three minutes, four minutes, five minutes, the "stormy applause, rising to an ovation," continued. But palms
were getting sore and raised arms were already aching. And the older people were panting from exhaustion. It was becoming
insufferably silly even to those who adored Stalin. However, who would dare to be the
first to stop? The secretary of the District Party could have done it. He was standing on the
platform, and it was he who had just called for the ovation. But he was a newcomer. He
had taken the place of a man who'd been arrested. He was afraid! After all, NKVD men were
standing in the hall applauding and watching to see who would quit first! And in the
obscure, small hall, unknown to the leader, the applause went on -- six, seven, eight
minutes! They were done for! Their goose was cooked! They couldn't stop now till they
collapsed with heart attacks! At the rear of the hall, which was crowded, they could of
course cheat a bit, clap less frequently, less vigorously, not so eagerly -- but up there
with the presidium where everyone could see them?
The director of the local paper factory, an independent and strong-minded man, stood with the presidium. Aware of all
the falsity and all the impossibility of the situation, he still kept on applauding! Nine minutes! Ten! In anguish he watched
the secretary of the District Party Committee, but the latter dared not stop. Insanity! To the last man! With make-believe
enthusiasm on their faces, looking at each other with faint hope, the district leaders were just going to go on and on applauding
till they fell where they stood, till they were carried out of the hall on stretchers! And even then those who were left would not falter... Then,
after eleven minutes, the director of the paper factory assumed a businesslike expression
and sat down in his seat. And, oh, a miracle took place! Where had the universal, uninhibited, indescribable enthusiasm gone? To a man,
everyone else stopped dead and sat down. They had been saved!
The squirrel had been smart enough to jump off his revolving wheel. That, however, was how they discovered who the
independent people were. And that was how they went about eliminating them. That same night the factory director was
arrested. They easily pasted ten years on him on the pretext of something quite
different. But after he had signed Form 206, the final document of the interrogation, his
interrogator reminded him: "Don't ever be the first to stop applauding!"
Robert P. Dugan, Jr., Winning
the New Civil War, pp. 25-27.
A few years ago psychologist Ruth W. Berenda and her associates carried out an interesting experiment with teenagers designed to
show how a person handled group pressure. The plan was simple. They brought groups of ten adolescents into a room for a test.
Subsequently, each group of ten was instructed to raise their hands when the teacher pointed to the longest line on three
separate charts. What one person in the group did not know was that nine of the others in the room had been instructed ahead of time to vote for the
Regardless of the instructions they heard, once they were all together in the
group, the nine were not to vote for the longest line, but rather vote for the next to
the longest line. The experiment began with nine teen-agers voting for the wrong line. The
stooge would typically glance around, frown in confusion, and slip his hand up with the
group. The instructions were repeated and the next card was raised. Time after time, the
self-conscious stooge would sit there saying a short line is longer than a long line,
simply because he lacked the courage to challenge the group. This remarkable conformity
occurred in about 75% of the cases, and was true of small children and high-school
students as well. Berenda concluded that, "Some people had rather be president than
right," which is certainly an accurate assessment.
C. Swindoll, Living Above the
Level of Mediocrity, p. 225.
Once a spider built a beautiful web in an old house. He kept it clean and shiny so that flies would patronize it. The minute he
got a "customer" he would clean up on him so the other flies would not get suspicious. Then one day this fairly intelligent
fly came buzzing by the clean spider web. Old man spider called out, "Come in and sit." But the fairly intelligent fly said,
"No, sir. I don't see other flies in your house, and I am not going in alone!"
But presently he saw on the floor below a large crowd of flies
dancing around on a piece of brown paper. He was delighted! He was not afraid if lots of
flies were doing it. So he came in for a landing. Just before he landed, a bee zoomed by,
saying, "Don't land there, stupid! That's flypaper!" But the fairly intelligent
fly shouted back, "Don't be silly. Those flies are dancing. There's a big crowd
there. Everybody's doing it. That many flies can't be wrong!"
Well, you know what happened. He died on the spot. Some of us want to be with the
crowd too badly that we end up in a mess. What does it profit a fly (or a person) if he escapes the web only to end up in the
Charles Swindoll, Living Above the Level of
Mediocrity, p. 223-4.