In "The Country of the Blind," one of C.S. Lewis more thought-provoking poems, he writes:
Hard light bathed them — a whole nation of eyeless men,
Dark bipeds not aware how they were maimed. A long
Process, clearly, a slow curse,
Drained through centuries, left them thus.
The natural man is maimed
In a sense, the natural man is "maimed" and largely "not aware" he is sightless. Pop culture feeds on this blindness. According to one Book of Mormon prophet, the adversary uses the herd mentality to lead "men (away) carefully down to hell" (2 Nephi 28:21). The herd convinces itself that everybody's doing it, whatever "it" may be, therefore the group vision of acceptable behavior is justified, albeit sightless. As a result, the individual becomes part of the blind-guide collective. When that happens, people do things with the group they would never consider in the reflective eye of solitude. In my experience, no one ever lowers a high standard in solitude. There is typically a social element to misbehavior. Ask any gang member.
Group pull is powerful
I saw a vivid example of this at our recent blood drive. With more than 100 donors, our cultural hall bubbled with people willing to give life-saving blood. As those who had finished giving blood sat next to those waiting to donate, an interesting thing took place. A young woman got woozy and passed out. The caring staff caught her before she banged her head on the floor. Moments later, from several chairs away, came the unmistakable thud of a prospective donor crashing to the floor. When he saw the young woman go down, he, too, went gray and limp. While both fainters were receiving attention, one of the nurses asked me to separate those who were still upright from those who had fallen. When I questioned her request, the nurse explained, "When one goes, they all go!"
Group behavior has a certain unmistakable momentum. Once in motion, group behavior tends to accelerate. This is true in the stock market, sports, missionary efforts and blood drives. The key to our direction is defined by who and what we follow: "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matthew 6:21).
No one would knowingly follow an incompetent surgeon to the operating table or an unskilled mountain guide to a rocky summit. The quality of our leaders really does matter. In the gospel of Jesus Christ there is no misdirection, no harmful, wandering path or incompetent blind guide.
Our vision is profoundly affected by whom we follow. When we follow the natural-man herd, we wander, not recognizing the herd's blindness until the path narrows precariously toward the dangerous cliff. An eye-opening reality check isn't a blessing if we are already tumbling over the edge. When we follow Jesus, our limited vision is transformed. We literally "see him as he is" (Moroni 7:48), and with startling new eyes, we also see ourselves as we are: a precious child of God.
Our ultimate guide
Jesus said, "For judgment, I am come into this world, that they which see not might see" (John 9:39). This is the reason that coming unto Christ requires us to trust the vision of our ultimate guide. Faith, by definition, is a walk in the dark, but it is a hand-in-hand walk with Jesus into the light at the end of our journey.
As a practical matter, how do we rescue a wayward youth or a lost sheep from the blindness of the wandering herd? The first step is to adopt the advice I received from the nurse at the blood drive: Separate yourself before you pass out. The Lord echoes this counsel: "Flee out of the midst of Babylon..." (Jeremiah 51:6).
Your child's associations do matter. Your social circles do matter. This does not mean we should become cliquish and closed off from those who do not hold our high standards. Quite the opposite is true.
However, we cannot expect to lead by example without first seeking 20/20 vision in Jesus, our standard bearer. Discipleship is not an eyeless destination, but a straight and narrow path away from the herd mentality, from "darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9).
William Monahan is a 1980 graduate of BYU Law School. He practices law in Gilbert, Ariz. A former Phoenix stake president, he serves on the high council for the Queen Creek Chandler Heights Stake. He is active in Arizona Interfaith and a U.S. Air Force veteran. He is an adjunct professor of business law and ethics at Chandler-Gilbert Community College. He and his wife are the proud parents of seven children and 13 grandchildren.