Follow the Leader?
I was a trendsetter last week and didn’t even mean to be.
Our neighborhood has recycling pickup. And because we live in the Triangle, we recycle. Because in the Triangle, recycling is right up there next to substitutionary atonement and if you want to go to heaven, you put your bottles and cans in the blue bin, because that’s what the Apostle Paul would’ve wanted, at least according to those who really love to recycle.
The only problem is, there are Recycling Rules. In our neighborhood, pickup is every other Thursday. Cans have to be at the curb by 8 AM. Empty cans can’t stay out overnight. And on holiday weeks, pickup is pushed back a day.
At least I think it is.
You see, it’s really hard to keep up with the Recycling Rules and know if you’re doing ’em right. So usually what happens is that I come home, and as I’m driving through the neighborhood – if I see even one recycling can out – I think “Huh. Must be recycling day tomorrow.” So I roll the dice and roll the can out to the street.
But last week, I just so happened to be the first one in the pool. I was convinced that it was Recycling Eve in the ‘hood, so the blue can went out. And next thing I know, my across-the-street neighbor rolled his can out. Then my next-door neighbor rolled his out. Then the lady three doors down. Then the next-door neighbor on the other side. And suddenly, the street was populated by rows of blue cans, all holding our efforts to extend the life of the environment and make Al Gore shed a tear, thereby rusting his robot parts.
The only problem was, it wasn’t Recycling Eve. Because of the Labor Day holiday, recycling hadn’t just been pushed back, it had apparently been scrapped altogether (pun intended). But because I assumed it was Recycling Eve, all my neighbors assumed I was right, and they followed suit because…well…why not?
Here’s what I learned in my blue can blunder: people follow what seems normal. We see it all the time in society: angry Facebook comment? Let’s all pile on and add to the vitriol. New diet fad? I’ll take some of that wheat-free, high-protein, herbal-detox goodness, thank you. Shoot, just try standing on a street corner and staring at the sky. Within a few minutes a half-dozen gullible souls will join you. (No seriously: try it. It’s pretty hilarious.)
So if people are prone to follow what seems normal, why not use that power for good? What if you led the way in your world by doing what’s not normal, and maybe turn into an unintentional trendsetter? Why not serve with abandon in your church? Give generously to those around you? Encourage people freely, take time to notice the positive, and call strengths out in friends’ lives?
I know for me, when I see people do the unusually positive, I’m always (a) caught off guard and (b) inspired to do the same. It’s easier for me to ask my waitress about her day if my buddy does it first. It seems less daunting to share my faith if a friend leads the way. I can invest in my kids more or go deeper in the gospel or serve a stranger if I see that example in someone else.
How can you lead others in a positive direction? Do that thing today.
As for me, I’ve gotta go stand on a street corner and stare at the sky.