Friday, December 21, 2007

The Lemmings

Today I picked my mother up at the airport to begin our Christmas visit. She arrived around lunch time. As we near the Christmas holiday, the airport has become quite busy! I flew in from the Middle East yesterday and the arrival pick up area was extremely crowded and chaotic. Today, while fetching my mother, the pace had picked up even more.

Our airport had a system for paid parking that requires you to obtain a ticket on your way into the parking garage. You pay, using a computer, before you get in your car to leave the garage. When you reach the parking area exit, you simply slip your ticket into a machine and, providing you paid at the computer, you easily exit the airport.

I paid for my parking at the computer and collected my validated ticket. As mom and I drove towards the airport exit, I notices something very interesting. There are about a dozen lanes you can use to exit the airport. Each one has a flashing sign above it that gives its status. If it says, "CLOSED," obviously you can't use that lane to exit. Other options for the display include "CASHIER" or "PAID TICKETS or CREDIT/DEBIT."

As we approached the exit, I noticed that all the cars waiting to exit were lined up in the two far left lanes. There must have been 10 cars in each lane. I quickly scanned the signs above the lanes, and noticed that there were two other open lanes displaying "PAID TICKETS or CREDIT/DEBIT" above them. I drove right up to one of the totally open lanes, slipped in my paid ticket, the gate went up and we left the airport. Meanwhile, all those lined up cars waited to exit the airport.

Mom and I chuckled and we started talking about why that happened. People basically looked at what others were doing and followed them. They didn't evaluate the situation critically and make a decision based on the facts. They simply followed what others were doing. By doing so, they waited in a needless line and traded precious moments of life energy.

I found this fascinating. Of course, this isn't a super significant 'waste' of time or any kind of big deal. The principle, however, is very important. How often do we allow our actions to be guided by what other people do, or do not do? How often do we assume something is the right action because others are doing it? How many times do we go barreling down a path because others are on it, only to find that it was a mistake? It happens every day. We turn over our critical thinking process to 'mass consciousness.' We do what others are doing or don't do what others aren't doing. Often times this can lead to everyone careening off the same cliff.

That brings me to the legend of the lemmings: creatures who follow after one another, even to the extent of plunging off a cliff simply because they only follow whoever is in front of them and never make their own, well informed decisions. Here's an interesting Wikipedia Article on Lemmings.

As I whizzed by all the waiting people today at the airport and quickly and effortlessly exited the airport, I was reminded, once again, of the advantages of thinking for oneself and not simply doing what others do. There are so many opportunities in life that we might miss if we look at and interact with the world the way every one else does. Seeing with fresh eyes and making our own decisions is a powerful way to enhance our success in life.

Next time you are tempted to 'follow the crowd' take an extra look around before you do. There might be an exciting and perfect path for you... right in front of your eyes!

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