During my forty-year career in education I witnessed too often the damage of peer pressure. In order to “belong” to a group, a student would adopt behavior and dress to demonstrate they had reached the threshold of being “one of us.” This pressure was mostly negative and even dangerous because it required a student to follow imposed mores and not his or her own morality. At times this acquiescing to demands made by a group could result in serious circumstances, such as when a young female would “give it up” so that she would belong to the group of cool.
We all want to belong; to be a member of something larger than ourselves. Belonging to a group gives us a sense of worth, a sense of safety, and a sense of justice. If we become a member, then we become validated by the group and whatever price paid for membership becomes secondary to the belonging. This herd mentality, we hope, will lead us to herd immunity, the place where all members of our herd are protected by our experience and exposure.
When I coached a high school wrestling team, I had team tee shirts with “Iron sharpens iron” printed on the backs. I told the wrestlers that they were to help sharpen their teammates during every practice. I explained that they were each responsible for helping their teammates become better wrestlers and people. Iron sharpens iron. While the wrestlers were part of a team, a herd if you will, or a tribe, even, they were individuals most of all. They were parts of the whole, but they were required to be individual wrestlers, just like the individual strands of a rope. If they were not independent wrestlers, the team suffered because they were not being the best that they could be. Iron sharpens iron. The phrase I used comes from Proverbs 27:17, “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.”
But if one becomes trapped in herd mentality then he or she relinquishes individuality and is not sharpened by others. Instead of challenging and making each other sharper, the easy life of following the herd takes over. The price does not matter anymore; all that counts is the sense of belonging to the group. The aspiring member will now do anything to belong to the herd–even expose his or her children to possible infection of a disease that is rapidly spreading. Such illogical acts feed the self-serving aspirant. Membership in the herd has now taken over.
The trap of herd life is all around for Christ followers, and always has been. However, we are reminded to be wary of false leaders and ideas. The 1st Century Christians had to battle against tempting ideas such as Gnosticism. They had to use the discernment we are all given. They had to be aware! And we are to be aware as well for temptations that come in attractive packages. Such temptations are not only of the flesh, but of the lure of power, money, and belonging to a herd that offers only the allure of riches. After all, we can never be fully immune to any evil. That is perhaps the biggest lie of all.