Don't Follow the Follower
by Earl Nightingale
95 percent of people never succeed because they're following the wrong group.
Processionary caterpillars travel in long, undulating lines, one creature behind the other. Jean Hanri Fabre, the French entomologist, once lead a group of these caterpillars onto the rim of a large flowerpot so that the leader of the procession found himself nose to tail with the last caterpillar in the procession, forming a circle without end or beginning.
Through sheer force of habit and, of course, instinct, the ring of caterpillars circled the flowerpot for seven days and seven nights, until they died from exhaustion and starvation. An ample supply of food was close at hand and plainly visible, but it was outside the range of the circle, so the caterpillars continued along the beaten path.
People often behave in a similar way. Habit patterns and ways of thinking become deeply established, and it seems easier and more comforting to follow them than to cope with change, even when that change may represent freedom, achievement, and success.
If someone shouts, “Fire!” it is automatic to blindly follow the crowd, and many thousands have needlessly died because of it. How many stop to ask themselves: Is this really the best way out of here?
So many people “miss the boat” because it's easier and more comforting to follow — to follow without questioning the qualifications of the people just ahead — than to do some independent thinking and checking.
A hard thing for most people to fully understand is that people in such numbers can be so wrong, like the caterpillars going around and around the edge of the flowerpot, with life and food just a short distance away. If most people are living that way, it must be right, they think. But a little checking will reveal that throughout all recorded history the majority of mankind has an unbroken record of being wrong about most things, especially important things. For a time we thought the earth was flat and later we thought the sun, stars, and planets traveled around the Earth. Both ideas are now considered ridiculous, but at the time they were believed and defended by the vast majority of followers. In the hindsight of history we must have looked like those caterpillars blindly following the follower out of habit rather than stepping out of line to look for the truth.
Prudence, common sense and a bit of humility demands that we examine and adhere to what most others do. The message here is to not do it unthinkingly or out of mental laziness. I have experienced that in order to dare to do differently in important matters, I need to practise it by deliberately standing away from the crowd in small matters, once in a while.