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Running Against the Crowd

As a distance runner, I've experienced times in long races, especially marathons, when you settle in to your pace, turn off your brain, and simply go with the flow of the runners around you. Sometimes, I've even found myself running lock-step, stride-for-stride, with those immediately to my sides. Once during the Nashville Marathon, I was with a small group that became separated from the rest of the pack late in the race as we ran though a section of poorly marked city streets. Each of us thought the other knew where they were going and we made a wrong a group. We soon realized our mistake and back-tracked to the proper route, sharing some not too pleasant words about the race organizers and how poorly they had marked the course. However, while we were quick to complain, we overlooked the simple fact that each of us were so zoned out and silently marking time with each other that we failed to see the signs along the way that, despite what we thought, really were there. We weren't paying attention and it almost got us lost.

It's easy to do this in this race called life as well. We become settled-in and comfortable and either fail to remain conscious of our what is going on around us or allow others to make decisions for us by virtue of simply following along with what everyone else it doing, thinking, saying, or feeling. As with most things in life, it's when we fail to think for ourselves that we can get in the most trouble.

C.S. Lewis remarked that, "When the whole world is running towards a cliff, he who is running in the opposite direction appears to have lost his mind." In other words, it's the one who first realizes that something's off, that the group they are in shouldn't be running this way or in this manner, who then reverses course to avoid the calamity of running off the cliff that is frequently looked at by the others in the pack with scorn or disdain, as if this trout swimming upstream against the current of popular belief is obviously wrong and misled in their decision to go against the flow. As they carry on self-assuredly in the same direction, some will look over their shoulders and jeer, mock or criticize the one who dared to break ranks from everyone else...that is, up until the moment that their feet no longer touch solid ground and they plummet over the edge that, in their distracted state, they never saw coming.

How comfortable are you in standing against the crowd, striking out on a new path that may run contrary to what is comfortable or popular? It's the radical thinkers, the bold risk-takers, the daring adventurers who leave the largest legacy. It's those who keep a weather eye on the horizon that are able to see the coming storm and alter course in time to avert disaster. Yet to do so requires the determination to stay focused, remain vigilant, and be willing to resist the group-think that can cause you to drift toward complacency and danger.

Every day we run a race, surrounded by others doing the same, on a course that will almost certainly take us across unfamiliar terrain. Pay attention and look for the signs. Run hard and run well. Don't get lulled to sleep. And if along the way you see that misfortune lies ahead, correct your course, run against the crowd, and keep moving on.

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