Standing on your own in the midst of a crowd can be hard. Sometimes it is easier to just give in and go with the crowd. There are times where this is harmless, such as going with your friends to a movie that isn’t your thing, just to be sociable. But there are times when this can be dangerous: you know it is wrong to make fun of someone, but you go along with the crowd so as not look like a wimp. Or, you want to seem patriotic, so you are willing to label another group as Other; this way, you won’t be grouped amongst them when the melee begins. This is when standing on the weight of your own principles can become quite difficult.
It is easy to believe that if the group has some kind of consensus, then maybe you are ignorant about something that they have more knowledge about. And there are certainly times when that may be true: maybe you stood hard on the premise that global warming was natural, but the consensus convinced you otherwise. You discovered the group had valid data that you had been previously ignorant about. So now, because of the group, you changed your mind. Perhaps this happened in reverse. But the point is this: whatever your position was before, the group changed your mind and you are satisfied with the result.
Why bother, then, with following through on an opinion that runs counter to the masses? It may come off as pure arrogance, pure show. Not to mention, you could just be dead wrong. What if you change your mind? Is this being wishy-washy or weak? These concerns make taking a stand in the midst of dissension a decision fraught with anxiety. Of course, the more doubt that pervades your thinking, the less sure you are of your own stand. It may seem like pure showmanship and bravado. Teasing someone about her outfit? Well, she does look weird in that dress. She’s getting upset, but she’s the only one who seems bothered. Maybe she’s too sensitive. After all, it was just a joke. Rationalizations in situations as benign as this one can lead a person to decide not to take the road to standing out in the crowd. So you make fun of your friend, and figure she’ll get over it.
The problem with this rationalization is that it is easy to apply it to everything. Anti-gay slurs sound good in a bar, because you don’t want people to think you are gay yourself. Or, you remain silent when the rhetoric mushrooms from drunken rantings to condemnation in the courtroom and on the streets. Well, I’m not gay. Or black. Or Jewish. Or whatever the accursed demographic du jour is. This is the kind of mentality that leads to what the German preacher Martin Niemöller said: they eventually came for me, and there was no one left to stand up for me.
Maybe one thing that can help in these times is a willingness to be wrong. Maybe you can take a stand, and if you are wrong, you can have compassion for yourself. You can remember that everyone makes mistakes. Taking the debate about whether climate change is man-made or natural, obviously either one group is totally wrong, or both groups are wrong to some extent. But if you are truly convinced something is true, it probably doesn’t do you or anyone else any good pretend otherwise just to seem popular. Your attempt to force yourself to think otherwise will come off as a diluted version of your best self. You have little or no chance of acting from your own sense of conviction if you constantly violate it through denial of its voice.
So, if you truly have a strong opinion about something, then take a stand for it, at least within your own heart and mind. If you constantly go against what you believe to be true, then you can be talked into anything. If you are wrong, you can change your mind. Be willing to listen to others, and respect their own opinions. Try to remember that everyone you speak to is a fellow human being. When this happens, you are more likely to come from a place of compassion and empathy, hence able to rely your intentions being something other than pure ego. Be open to new ideas and be willing to think differently. But ignoring your own convictions outright is a violation that will always be wrong, for you and everyone else. For the sake of your own integrity, be willing to stand for your own convictions that are in your heart.