Cross-posted from Yeshe's blog:
Every day we are faced with choices about whether to remain firm in ourselves or follow the crowd. Some of these choices are about things as simple as what we buy, and some are much more difficult.
A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research in 2014 showed that people will buy an inferior product, when given the choice of a higher-quality product, if they see others around them purchasing that lower-quality choice. The authors of the study stated, “Our research demonstrates that automatic forms of social influence are more pervasive than previously thought. The automatic processes that underlie behavioral mimicry appear to not only influence nonverbal communication, emotions, and behavior when people interact, but they adopt the same preferences as other consumers.”
If herd mentality influences us at such a basic level that it overrides our ability to make sensible decisions regarding the quality and value of products we are purchasing for regular use, what else might be impacted by this human tendency? And, how might we catch ourselves before we fall down the rabbit hole of public opinion and make errors in judgment?
In the 11th century, Tibetan mystic Machig Labdrön offered these 5 slogans to help people confront their lesser tendencies. Each of these slogans serves as a toe hold that can keep us from sliding down the slippery slope of our conditioned behaviors.
Confess your hidden faults.
Approach what you find repulsive.
Help those you think you cannot help.
Anything you are attached to, give that.
Go to the places that scare you.
By cultivating awareness of our patterns of attachment, aversion, and indifference as revealed by these 5 slogans, we have the opportunity to see WHY we are so easily influenced by public opinion: because it's comfortable and familiar. In the absence of personal awareness and decisiveness about our actions and choices, we are more likely to choose a comfortable but lower-quality life experience rather than the more risky path of self-discovery, which may yield discomfort. Yet, amidst the discomfort of choosing the more difficult path of Machig's slogans, or another code of conduct that demands that you take the high road, there can dawn within you an almost excruciating bliss. This is your direct connection to the web of light. No one can take it from you, no one can give it to you, and many around you will not understand it. Then you will know you have broken free from the herd.
Do not allow yourself to be recruited: not by well-intentioned but incomplete ideas, nor by the collective power of a group of people reveling in low-energy or aggressive emotions, nor by trends and fashions, nor even by your own lesser impulses.
Learn to be who you truly are, an emanation of light within a field of light, and find the deepest possible wellspring of joy by taking the risk of discomfort in stepping free of the crowd and its focus on empty opinions and lower-quality experiences. Then, when your own light shines brighter as a result, watch how others around you begin to do the same. This is the opposite of recruitment and the beginning of a kind of entrainment that can change entire communities.