When I was a freshman in High School I was tricked by my history teacher. Here’s what happened…I came into class with the rest of the students and before I sat down and settled in, the teacher handed me a book and asked me to drop it off to the principal. Not thinking anything of it, I took the book to the school’s Main Office. When I came back to the classroom, the teacher was in the middle of a question. He was pointing at a couple lines he drew on the chalk board that looked a little like this:
He asked, “Which of you think this line is the same length as this line?”
Only a couple people raised their hands. I was confused. The lines looked to be identical. I came back to the classroom in the middle of the question and it seemed the majority knew something I didn’t.
Then, pointing to two different lines, the teacher asked, “Who thinks these lines are the same length?”
The majority of the class raised their hands. So… I did too. Immediately the teacher called me out. “Matt, why did you raise your hand? Do you honestly believe these two lines are the same length?”
“Well, no… I-I don’t know.” I stammered.
“Why did you raise your hand?” He asked again.
I was caught. Embarrassed, I tried to explain that I didn’t know what was happening. I came back from the principal’s office in the middle of the question and the majority answered the question so… I just followed suit. I didn’t want to stand out and be wrong.
My history teacher was illustrating a point about how people can be influenced to follow the majority and paralleled that to Nazi Germany. It was a good lesson for the class, but a life changing lesson for me. For years after that, it bothered me that he chose me. Why did he choose me? Did he know that I would follow the crowd? It irritated me that I didn’t answer what I thought was true.
I still think of that lesson from time to time. It still bothers me to this day, but I’m so glad that he chose me. It built something new in me. Conviction. At least, an awareness of opportunity to stick with conviction. By not following the crowd mindlessly from the start, I can decide where I stand in any given situation. It’s important to question things. It’s important to not assume the crowd is always right. You can’t develop any kind of true conviction without questioning the status quo. And the point is not to question just for the sake to question. It can’t come from a rebellious place. If you question things with the right heart, not out of anger or frustration but with the constraints of what’s right or wrong, then the question will position yourself to discover who you actually are and what direction you need to go.