“If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?”
There are few things in this world with a payoff as great as cultivating the people who influence you. Every single person you interact with will have some effect on you, even if you’re an incredibly stalwart person. That means that who you give the most influence to is vitally important.
The question of whether or not you’d jump off a bridge if all your friends did is entirely dependent on the quality of your circle of friends.
If your friends are all savvy, intelligent, and competent people, and ALL of them jump off a bridge, then there might be something to it. It’s not about blind faith in others! Those friends aren’t random – you chose them, and if you do a good job in that choosing then you can use that as a proxy for later decisions such as whether to trust their decisions to leap off of things.
Conversely, lessons so often taught on after-school television specials about not letting your friends dictate your behavior are really lessons about picking better friends. If you need to constantly choose between your own moral compass and the influence of your peers, then your peers might just be terrible.
Contrary to what you might think, this doesn’t mean I advocate an echo chamber or a circle of “yes men/women.” Quite the opposite! If your chosen peer group is filled with smart, savvy and competent people then you can actually feel more confident seeking out contrary opinions and views and giving them fair consideration. You won’t have to worry as much that some silver-tongued influence will get the better of your higher reasoning with emotional appeals, because you’ll have forums to discuss these things with other rational minds.
It’s no coincidence that demagogues so often find the chronically isolated among their most devout followers. No matter how smart and stalwart we are, none of us are immune to emotional bias or weakness of reasoning on occasion. We all have our bad days. If you don’t have a circle of minds to connect to your own that you trust and value, then a “bad day” can be an open gate for every bad idea that floats your way. But if you have ten other strong minds that influence you, that you’ve learned to trust over time and value their input? Then even if you get caught up in a bad idea, you have tethers.
If I want to talk someone into jumping off a bridge, all I have to do is catch them at the right (wrong) moment. If I want to convince a group of ten to do the same, they’d have to simultaneously be experiencing the sort of terrible emotional strain that would make them susceptible to that kind of influence, and that’s significantly less likely.
Whether they’re your close friends, certain family members, professional peers, or even a salon of thinkers you cultivate and interact with solely for this reason, it’s a good thing to have a regular forum of ideas.
Without it, you’re closer to the edge of the bridge than you might think.