Following the Crowd
In 1940 a film came out called “Gaslight”. It’s a thriller about a man who tries, and to some extend succeeds, in convincing his wife that she’s imagining things, that she’s becoming insane. From that film and the plays that followed it, came a psychological definition, “gaslighting“, which describes a form of psychological abuse, where a person is made to believe, over a period of time, that they are becoming insane.
A while back, I heard another definition of what gaslighting is, where we accept an idea because the rest of the people involved in the idea have also accepted it.
For example, a family knows that one of them is an alcoholic, but they all pretend that it’s not happening. They all know that to be true and a fact, but no-one is saying anything or doing anything. It’s a family secret, the skeleton in the cupboard.
This can also involve abuse, drugs, being involved in crime or even someone in your family suffering a mental illness or PTSD.
In this form, gaslighting is a self imposed way of insanity, where we decide, as a group, that something is not happening. And, like sheep, we follow each other, going along with the idea.
This has a lot of wider implications, but in this post I want to focus on just one of them – how we follow the crowd in our lives.
A sheep in the crowd or a black sheep
The way that most of us live our life is as if we follow in the steps of others, never venturing a little further in any direction. We fall prey to other peoples opinions and ideas, about us, society, environment, opportunity, that we get into the habit of staying where we are, because it’s the safe thing to do.
We get blinded by their truth of the situation, rather than looking at things by ourselves. We agree to go along with what is being said, even though there are times when we feel and at times see, that what we are being told is not true or the whole truth.
We don’t want to go against the flow, to avoid confrontation, criticism and because of fear. Any change to the normal way of life we avoid, accepting what we are told.
In another form, this is gaslighting – we believe the truth of others, following the follower, never changing. As Einstein is quoted as saying – “Insanity – Doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results”.
But that is exactly what we do – we want something more of our lives, but we do the same thing again and again, hoping that something will change along the way and put us on a different path, towards what we want.
Deep down, however, we don’t believe we’ll get there and, because there’s no belief, we’ll never get there.
To change things we have to stop following the crowd and start thinking, really thinking. We have to be the odd one out and be the black sheep of the flock – it’s the only way to break away from the insanity of the drone of a life we no longer want.
Stop the flickering
In the film, gas is the fuel that powers the lights. There are times in the film when the lights flicker, but the heroine, and victim, is told that it’s her imagination.
We get those flickers in our lives. We call them opportunities. But because of fear and opinions we never act on them.
The words of family and friends echo in our ears, telling us how hard it will be, that the chances of success are unlikely or low, that we are not the type of person to be able to do that kind of thing. So we stay where we are and another opportunity is lost.
Everyone has opinions. A few have valid ones. But no opinion based on another persons fears has ever helped anyone succeed in their own life. In the same way, others’ opinions will not help you on your path of success, but don’t confuse opinion with advice – one is purely based on biases, the other is based on experience and knowledge. Learn to differentiate the two.
To get away from the flickering lights and the insanity, is a process of understanding and knowledge. It needs goals and action. It needs courage and effort.
The path to the life we want, of joy and fulfillment, because success is exactly that, needs to have something for us to aim for. The first thing that we need to do is figure out our goal. Without that there can be no real movement.
A shepherd knows where the sheep have to go and guides them in that direction. The sheepdog follows instructions to divert the sheep in the direction chosen by the shepherd. The sheep just do what they are told. They don’t know where they are going – it could be any field, any pen. Only the shepherd knows.
And you have to be the shepherd of your own life. If you’re not, you’ll end up being the sheepdog or the sheep. Either way, you have to decide what you want to do.
Moving out of the shadows, away from the gaslight, is a road that is taken by those that decide to do so. It takes a decision to do something, persistence to keep going, courage to stay on it and willingness to see it through.
To become “sane” is a choice. It could be that you consciously decide that the job you are currently in is what you will stay in. Or you might decide to make a change.
Whatever you choose, do it consciously, make a conscious decision and say it aloud to yourself. It’s like putting a stamp on things. Then do the best you can where you are, giving the best service you can.
Insanity, in life, is living a life, never really stopping and thinking if this is what you want to do or where you want to be. It’s following the crowd because it’s what everyone else does.
My dad had always said that what others do doesn’t matter. It took a long time before I understood what he meant, but he was not following the crowd. The life he lived was one of his own choosing. He would not get gaslighted by society.
To change our life, if that’s what we want, we have to change the way we do things and the way we look at everything, especially ourselves. Our fears and beliefs will have to be assessed and changed if need be. What we hold true about ourselves and the world around us is a result of our fears and beliefs.
It’s part of the gaslighting we have chosen to live in and, knowingly or unknowingly, chosen to live in.
We accept things and ideas on a daily basis. We accept peoples behaviour because of status, wealth, environment or upbringing – we say it’s the way it is because it’s always been that way. But it doesn’t have to be.
The most common form of gaslighting is accepting something because it has always been that way, never stopping or pausing to ask, “Why is it like that?”
It’s like the story that Earl Nightingale tells of the man who, for years, would set his watch by the clock inside a jewelers store, so that he could sound the whistle at the local factory. On being questioned by the jeweler, he finds out that the jeweler had been setting the clock, all those years, to the factory whistle.
What are you doing now, that has always been done, with no-one ever asking why?
The world may want to keep you insane, by gaslighting you with it’s ideas and beliefs and fears. But you have the choice to become aware and realise that the flickering exists, that you can step out of that light and be the person you want to be, to live the life that you want.
It’s a decision away from the gaslight.
Quitters always believe the lies they tell themselves because delusion is easier to live with than the reality that they settled for an easier path.
Shannon L. Alder
Those others are guided by their own minds and pursue their own impulses. Do not be distracted by any of this, but continue straight ahead, following your own nature and universal nature: these two have one and the same path.