“No tempest or conflagration, however great, is harder to quell than mob carried away by the novelty of power.”–Marcus Tullius Cicero
In some figurative sense, human beings can behave like grasshoppers. When we’re alone or with a small group of other people, we’re mostly rational creatures who are typically civil and respect boundaries. However, when we gather in large crowds such as in sports venues, or political protest demonstrations, we have the potential to behave en masse like locusts. We can easily lose our individual sensibilities and behave as if the crowd is under the spell of a single will.
In other words, certain species of grasshoppers change into locusts during their swarming phase. It seems as if humans have a behavioral swarming phase as well. Both locusts and humans in swarms are capable of destructiveness and violence. There’s something about the sight and smell of large groups of grasshoppers and people that can be transformative in a destructive way. After a certain point, it becomes difficult or impossible to effectively control the groups.
Humans being the clever species we are, have figured out how to manipulate large crowds. Leaders and other popular individuals understand the immense power that can be wielded by turning a peaceful gathering into a fiery mob. It’s the old “torches and pitchforks” behavior we see depicted in movies about the Dark Ages or the angry mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol building on January 6, 2021. A large group hears a pep-talk and becomes transformed into an emotion-driven mob that focuses on one destructive, deadly goal.
“If somebody’d said before the flight, ‘Are you going to get carried away looking at the Earth from the Moon?’ I would have say, ‘No, no way.’ But yet when I first looked back at the Earth, standing on the Moon, I cried.”–astronaut, Alan Shepard
One does not need to be part of a crowd in order to become emotionally carried away. It can manifest as something benign or even positive. The reader can easily get carried away into the plot of a well-written book. Our emotions soar when we become absorbed in a beautiful landscape. Reason and rationality wane when we become infatuated and fall in love with another person. Sometimes, while we’re engaged in work or while creating something we are carried away in the production of our tasks.
One night, several years ago, on a lunch break during my solo work shift at the radio station, something memorable happened. The overnight programming was automated so I could enjoy the lunch break with minimal interruptions. A favorite disco song began playing–I think it was “I Love the Nightlife” or something similar. I couldn’t restrain myself from dancing. I became caught up in the rhythm and the words as I boogied around the empty office. On and on I danced, then I glanced at the large window at the front of the building. A few people (maybe a family) were watching my performance without my prior knowledge. I felt my face flush red and I stopped in my tracks. I smiled and waved at the people; then returned to the break room to finish eating lunch. I’ll probably never forget that embarrassing incident.
It’s wise to remember that it is very easy to get emotionally carried away and that we should be mindful of situations when it is likely to turn into something uncontrollable. We are smart not to become involved in crowd scenarios that can devolve into destructiveness. On a smaller scale, one must be careful about getting too wrapped up in the spirit of the moment that we commit to taking on too many responsibilities (people pleasing). It’s good to be careful not to become so fatigued that we lose sight of our accomplishments. One must also be careful not to become so happy in the moment that we agree to something we may regret later. It’s good to be mindful about when it is harmful to get carried away and when it is beneficial to allow it to happen.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes actor, author, commentator, and stand-up comedianne, Paula Poundstone. “My parents got carried away with the letter P when they were naming the kids in our family. There’s me, Paula, my sisters Peggy and Patty, and my brother Pjimmy, spelled with a silent P.”