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EBS31: The Man In the Crowd

Eric Butterworth Speaks: Essays on Abundant Living #31

Delivered by Eric Butterworth on May 30, 1975

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Sometimes I am asked whether, when I am delivering a talk in a meeting room or over the radio, I might sometimes wonder, “Who is my audience today?” I don’t think of speaking to an audience, because an audience is a group, a crowd. Too often, religion makes the mistake of dealing with its audience on a one-way street. It preaches a doctrine which is to be followed uniformly by any and all who listen. However, in the many thousands of times I have addressed people, I always try to think of you. You may be one of many in the crowd, but you are you. You have desires and ideals, and you have problems and challenges that are uniquely yours. I do not ask you to conform to what I say, but hope that something I say or write will help you to be yourself—to express that individualized spark of life which is God in you. I want, not that you be conformed to the world, as Paul says, but “transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

There are great pressures today to conform, to integrate, and to adjust. We are expected to look, act, and dress the same, even though such a thing is a complete cacophony in the divine symphony which mankind is. Arthur Miller, the playwright, has said that the world will one day face the most profound spiritual struggle of history. He says the great problem is not war, but is a “vastly more important conflict, with men’s minds fighting against the uniformity brought about by a tremendously industrialized society. Can people remain human beings when every human quality is being suppressed except the thing we need to have in order to fit into the industrial scheme efficiently? How do we preserve our identity in a mob?”

David Riesman, in his book, The Lonely Crowd, coined the useful concept of the “other directed” person, meaning those who habitually accept the standards and influence of others in their living instead of thinking through their own values. Such persons, he suggests, have developed a kind of personal radar system to catch signals of approval before they act. Fewer there are who possess their own inner gyroscope that helps them keep their balance in the midst of the clamorous demands of the times.

The crowd culture of today can be contrasted with other days. It is fascinating to tour Colonial Williamsburg, where many houses have been restored from the 1700’s. Each structure is uniquely individual, in shocking contrast with the uniform skyscrapers—the big boxes of steel and glass that modern cities display. They are mass-produced, reflecting a complete absence of individuality. We live in cities and suburbs, as Aldous Huxley says, “of interminable monotonies”, and the consequence is cultural and spiritual fatigue.

We are increasingly set in a world of crowds in which totals, aggregates, and masses count for more and more. We are victims of mass communication: we look at the same TV programs, laugh at the same jokes, read the same books, listen to the same syndicated news, and accept syndicated opinion. All of these are assaults on individual thought.

As one educator has pointed out, our era of mass-standardization has led to a “retreat from excellence.” It is not uncommon to see a brilliant youngster fail to exploit his capacities because, “I don’t want my friends to think I’m a brain.” He would rather be mediocre than to acheive excellence alone.

We must keep alive the memory of the pathway to progress that led to the creation of our nation. Drop down into any century and it is clear that individuals, like Alpine climbers, hewed pathways to the heights above the standardized mass with dedication to excellence at any cost. It was said of the pioneers that “On the ashes of their campfires, cities grew.” There is no separating social progress and individual creativity.

Wherever you go, you will find crowds, but never forget that the crowd is made up of people. Each individual has a family and his own ideals and desires, problems and needs. And it is quite likely that the tensions, mental illness, and the infinite variety variety of psychomatic disorders come from the inability to adjust to the herd. Yet within each person who “runs with the crowd” is, after all, a person.

We can never find the key to human relations in general or the solution to getting along with someone close to us until we are willing to admit that each is an individual, unique in every way. We can never force even two people into one mold.

When I talk about the dangers of conformity, I do not in any way imply that persons should become willful, head-strong, and uncooperative individuals who buck the current of life for the sheer joy of nonconformity. Nor do I mean to suggest that every person should develop a showy personality. Not everyone is outgoing by nature, and it would be an unwieldy world if this were so.

Individuality is really the breath of the soul itself. It is what makes each of us a person. If we stagnate our individuality by frustrating every urge to think or say or do something different, and force ourselves to think, say, or do that which is safe and accepted, we will one day become incapable of original thought and action.

Paul states the law: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” If you conform to the standards of the world, you become an anemic and stagnant expression of the Infinite. But if you are transformed by the renewing of your mind, then you will become a veritable dynamo, a transformer, a generator, a self-starter, a pioneer, an originator, and an innovator, because you will be tied in with the true source of all good. The Phillips translation of Paul’s words is revealing: “Don’t let the world force you into its mold, but let God remold you from within.”

I recall a wonderful story told by the great desert fighter, D.H. Lawrence, who identified himself with the Arabs and became one of their leaders in their revolt against the Turks. He took a few of his Arab friends with him to Paris, where they were quartered in one of the nicest hotels in the city. He showed them all the sights, but the one thing that interested them the most was the bathroom faucet. These were men who lived all their lives in the desert, where the need for water was a constant concern. They were amazed that all one had to do was turn the faucet to command an unlimited supply of water. When it was time to leave, the Arabs were nowhere to be found. Finally, they were discovered in the bathroom, trying to remove the faucet so they could take it back to the desert.

You may laugh at this because you know that the faucet must be attached to a pipe leading to a resevoir which must in turn be fed from some water supply. But symbolically, the average American today is much the same: a faucet worshipper. When we conform to the standards, beliefs, and popular trends of the world in our thinking and conduct, we carry around a faucet without a resource.

Our need is to cultivate an awareness of the inner kingdom, the vast and still uncounted resource of God within us. We must know that there is a special role for us to play as part of the Divine flow of inspiration and guidance, and that we need not look to the world for our direction. The divine will ever seeks to lead you in the expression and expansion of the God idea, the good idea, which you are. But it can only manifest itself when you become open and receptive to the transforming influence of the divine flow within you.

When you let go of outward pressures, you will become a transformer, a leader, and a positive influence in the world about you.

© 1975, by Eric Butterworth

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