The Herd Mentality (Part 1) | Being in the Middle of the Pack

On our flight to Aruba, a man in his early- to mid-thirties was sitting in the row behind us. He was decently good-looking, but clearly worn out. Almost like a young veteran who just came back from war. He still has ways to go, yet feels he’s already seen too much.

The man started the first third of the flight hitting on the young woman beside him. She was clearly going on vacation with her boyfriend — who was sitting right beside her. An obvious fact nobody in the plane would’ve thought twice about. That didn’t seem to bother him, though. He proceeded through cheesy pick-up lines to dubious attempts at small talk, until he finally gave up.

He spent the second third of the flight sleeping. Probably because he had drank too much at the Charlotte airport. He also could’ve been one of those guys who sound drunk even when they’re sober. We all know that kind — always a little hungover from last night’s party or before yesterday’s drink out before the Red Sox game.

They’re endearing. I give them that. Everyone feels comfortable around them, because “who am I to judge?” would be be their typical response to an embarrassing story. And they’d be certainly right in saying so.

What got to me, however, was how he finished off the rest of the flight. He started talking to another man who was sitting in the middle seat across the aisle. A woman was sitting between them, and had to endure their entire conversation. That poor lady — her patience was superhuman.

“Dude, I just started this new endeavor in a really hot market. Endless demand. Small supply, and, trust me, it’s all mine. This is about to get dangerous!”

The entire airplane was about to have VIP tickets to the Business Bullshit Show, narrated by Drunken Joe and Hungover Steve.

“Yeah?”, he fired away, “Did you do that through an LLC or a C-Corp? I hate taxes, man. Just like 95% of Americans! But, at least, I’m the only one who’s not afraid to say it!”

Really, Drunken Joe, is that how you feel about taxes? Are you really the only person who affirms their hate for taxes? Do you live in a cave?

Their conversation lasted until we touched down in Queen Beatrix International Airport. I was so afraid I’d be spending my vacation with people like them. I was on a tight budget, and the thought of spending my counted days with similarly unnerving folks was scary. For the record, I’m not a misanthrope, but there’s a line to be drawn somewhere. This fear, for all it’s worth, triggered something constructive in me and my girlfriend, for that matter, who was also a unenthusiastic spectator to the dense conversations occurring behind us.

It forced us — or, at least, me — to react constructively to the so-called herd mentality, to which we’re all accustomed. It’s everywhere — going to the Eiffel Tower for selfies and cheese, to London for pictures of guards in red suits, to Canada, well, for Niagara Falls, and to Aruba for mojitos and sand. And, don’t get me wrong, it’s perfectly fine to do all of those things. I’ve probably done them all. But to do only those things is what I don’t understand.

Having a herd mentality has nothing to do with class, background, income, and whatever quantifiable variable you might think of. It’s just there — you notice it when you encounter it. Having a herd mentality puts you in the middle of the pack, and nothing about that is fun. Going through the motions — childhood, adolescence, college, bad job, marriage, kinds, and then death — is simply not fun.

In contrast to the middle of the pack come extremes. Fringes. Margins. Whatever you want to call them. They, however, are interesting and fun, because you’re not under anyone’s microscope — performing as you are expected to, acting like everyone around you. Avoiding this huge spotlight is what elicits the interesting questions that become of greatest importance during vacation time.

How do I escape the tourist traps and still enjoy myself? How do I eat well without resorting to Google-rated restaurants? How do I get from Point A to Point B without being trapped in a Jeep full of Drunken Joes and Hungover Steves?

All in all, I implored myself to experience Aruba from the perspective of someone who doesn’t belong in the middle of the pack. This meant not confining myself in overcrowded beaches and avoiding high-rise hotels, amongst many things. And it all worked out perfectly.

The best places are always deserted. All that is required is to find them the hard way!

In the next few posts I’ll explore further the herd mentality and this idea of remaining in the middle of the pack. I find it compelling to explore the root causes of complacency and entitlement. They become all the more apparent on vacation, because peace and quiet are never to be found within the herd.

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