Once upon a time during a bout of sleeplessness, I came across a television program that described the phenomenon of how and why people conform. Scientists conducted experiments showing how people are easily influenced by the opinions and actions of others into making decisions or taking courses of action that they know to be wrong or contrary to their own beliefs or perceptions.
The study used groups of people brought together to view a series of picture pairs of various objects. The participants were asked to comment on whether the objects depicted were the same of different in size, shape and/or color. Among the participants were several ‘ringers’ planted to all give the same incorrect opinions, in an attempt to influence the opinions of the rest of the target group. These ‘ringers’ were instructed to make their corresponding incorrect opinions known early in the answer process to see if the others would follow their opinions or voice their own independent opinion.
In the face of obviously mismatched objects, -- most of the target people conformed to the wrong answers given by the ‘ringers’ rather than voice contrary opinions. If the opinion leaders, who always went first, said a pair matched, even though they obviously didn’t match, the majority of the group agreed with their incorrect answer.
Later, when the target people were confronted with this behavior most said they didn’t want to appear out-of-touch or different or not-in-step with the rest of the group, even when they knew their answer was incorrect. The participants said they did this to be accepted by the group. They didn’t want to be alone in giving a contrary opinion. To them it was more important to appear to be part of the group than it was to be correct.
The people who conducted this study said that further study indicated that the seriousness of a decision had little influence on this behavior. A majority of the people continued to conform to group thinking rather than make independent, non-conformist decisions.
If it is this hard for us to act independently from the crowd (despite how independent we Americans think we are) imagine how hard it was Simon, Andrew, James and John to drop everything they were doing, leave their fathers, families and friends to follow an unknown itinerant preacher.
They stopped in the middle of their work and followed Jesus who offered no more explanation beyond, “Come, I will make you fishers of men.” What ever that meant – I’m sure they had no idea. Their culture made this behavior as radical then as we think a call to discipleship is today.
Jesus called them to a radical change of life: a change that led to where they could not even begin to imagine. Throughout most of their ministry with Jesus they thought they were going to become great leaders, powerful magistrates or princes in a worldly kingdom.
That morning, as they sat on the beach drying their nets, I am sure they never thought that following Jesus would lead them to the greatest life-changing event in the history of mankind. Little did they realize that they would be witnesses to the Glory of God manifest in our Lord’s suffering on the cross and the glory of His Resurrection.
These were common ordinary folk, not unlike you and me; going about their daily business until they listened to God’s call: The call to make that radical change in their lives. The call to which, by their actions, they answered “Yes,” just as Mary did, or like Samuel answering, “Yes Lord, your servant is listening.” They followed the Lord’s call; going against the usual, the acceptable, the norm, doing what is different from the crowd; following the call of the Father to follow Jesus.
Today, as we hear Jesus’ call in our hearts – we too should find the courage to act just as did Simon and Andrew, James and John. We, as they, are being called to leave behind all the trappings of this world to follow Him. Let their “Yes” be our guide. Let us be influenced by those who have answered the call before us; saying, “Yes Lord, your servant is listening.”
The opinions of what is good and right in this noisy world drowns out that voice in our heart that calls us into a closer relationship with the Holy and Divine life found in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The allures and false promises of fleeting glory in this world, where the evil-one dwells, are not where an eternal life of peace and love is found. Do not be dissuaded by the false prophets of this world to follow their journey on a destructive path into darkness and despair.
Come, follow Jesus. Leave all that keeps you tied to this world, for He will lead you beyond your imagination - into the light and life of God’s heavenly kingdom. ~Amen