Pretend you are new to town and you want to go out to eat. Would you rather go to the restaurant that has an empty parking lot at dinnertime or the restaurant that has a packed parking lot at dinnertime? No contemplation needed. No restaurant, that is worth the cost of a meal, will be empty at dinnertime. Watch the birds, they go where there is food.
Now pretend that you are new to town and you want to go shopping. You know that there are two major malls in your area. Both have the same stores, but one is favored by the majority of people, over the other. At which mall will you make the choice to spend your money?
Maybe a little bit of contemplation is needed for this one. Yet, chances are very good that you will select the more frequented mall. Simply because, being new to town, you have to assume that people know something that you don’t. Afterall, watch the birds, they go where there is food.
These two situations are quite similar, but also drastically different. For it is entirely possible that the more crowded restaurant has better food than the empty restaurant. Yet, if both malls have the same stores, there must be something else going on. Something else that is attracting the majority of people over and above the other mall.
Your judgement on the goodness or badness of each place is based on where the majority of people choose to spend their money and time. The restaurant and the mall with more people, must mean they are better. For why else would all of these other people choose those specific places to spend their time and money? So, you decide, based on numbers. Specifically, the number of people who eat at one restaurant or shop at one mall.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with this method of decision making. For how else is a newbie supposed to make such an important decision as where to eat or where to shop? But it brings to mind a very important question. Does this number crunching phenomenon, in decision making, apply to other areas of life? Would you, being new to town, pick a doctor, a dentist or even a church, using the same criteria? The answer is simple – Yes you would, and you have.
God created us as social creatures. We require relationships in order to not only function, but to survive. Complain as you might, if this past year has taught us anything, it has taught us that we need to be with other people. You might complain about the crowds, but you will continue to go back because, deep down, you like the crowds. Crowds make you feel a part of something. Crowds validate your choices. Crowds reassure you that you are making good decisions and that everything is going to be alright.
But wait. How do we reconcile all of this with another phenomenon of human existence? How do we reconcile all of this with the fact that we are all creatures of habit? The fact that once you find something that suits your needs, a good restaurant or a preferred mall, it will take something drastic to move you out of that pattern?
And the same holds true for a doctor, a dentist and even a church. Once you have established your pattern, you will be hard pressed to change it. In fact, you will even take ownership. You go to “your” doctor, “your” dentist and “your” church. Once a place becomes “yours”, it is very hard for it to become not yours.
These two realities are the reason why it is so important to know that you can’t assume the goodness or badness of any place, solely based on numbers. You must acknowledge that people will prefer one place over another because of ownership. Once a place becomes yours – a restaurant, a mall, a doctor, a dentist or even a church – you no longer see that place the same. You no longer have the ability to compare apples to apples. For, in your mind, you own one of the apples.
So, watch the birds, they indeed go where there is food. They go to the place in which they are accustomed to being fed. But don’t doubt an important fact, the moment that the food stops or changes in some way, those very same birds will find a new source of food. For birds don’t take ownership of a place like us humans. They simply take advantage of what is available, whenever and wherever it is available.
What is the moral of all of this? Yes, watch the birds (birds in this metaphor means people), but that doesn’t mean that you always have to be a bird. You don’t have to make decisions based on popularity. Yes, embrace your desire to be with people, but sometimes break away from the crowds. Try new things. Reset your life patterns every now and again. Like the Girl Scouts taught my daughters – Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other is gold.
Or, for you high-brow folks: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” (The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost)