Letter 7. Don’t follow the crowd

Don't follow the crowd

In this series of blog posts I attempt to translate the Moral letters to Lucilius by Seneca into modern English.

Letter 7. Don’t follow the crowd

It’s easy to fall under the influence of the shared actions and behaviours of a crowd. If you find yourself in one then they may sweep you along; you may not even be aware it’s happening. The bigger the crowd the worse it gets. You’ll find yourself on auto-pilot believing that the opinion of the majority is correct, without any facts to back this up.

August Landmesser refusing to do the “Sieg Heil” salute at the launching of the Horst Wessel in Nazi Germany, 1936

August Landmesser refusing to do the “Sieg Heil” salute at the launching of the Horst Wessel in Nazi Germany, 1936

Perhaps the way the crowd is behaving is correct? Its got to be better for you to decide this for yourself; it’s too easy to blindly side with the majority. An activity or situation isn’t good just because most people say it is. I mean, it’s difficult enough trying to do the right thing when an individual is trying to persuade you otherwise. Magnify this to lots of people and you’ll either do what they do or you end up feeling that you should be acting differently to conform. Neither of these outcomes is ideal.

I recommend that you spend time reflecting on the right way to behave. Surround yourself with people who’ll help you with this. Learning from each other is two way process, as I’ve mentioned before. But, you’ll find that most people won’t act in this beneficial way as they’re too busy doing what everyone else is doing. For example, they’re catching up on soap operas, reading celebrity gossip magazines, or some other mindless activity. Copy this behaviour then you’ll waste your time, and you can’t afford for this to happen <link>.

But saying this, don’t dislike people because they’re acting like everyone else. The main thing is that you have learned what is important and proper, regardless of what others choose for themselves. Also, don’t think that just because lots of people decide to do something then it’s wrong. You see, there just aren’t any simple rules. So the best advice I can give is to ensure that it is you alone that is deciding what you want, and understanding why.

Take care.

Read the original text here.

Photo credit: leighblackall / Foter / CC BY

I recommend you read all of the most influential Letters in this new Penguin Classic book. It is the best translation, in my opinion, because it captures Seneca’s humour and style. It is also the easiest to read. My copy is full of highlighted lines, margin notes and tabs. A treasure chest of profound, practical advice which you can apply immediately.

Warning: this is not an academic text; it describes a hands-on philosophy of life. Discover powerful, instantly helpful wisdom. The complete guide to a improving your day-to-day activities, thoughts and actions.

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