Too often we are forced into a crowd. Life throws us into myriad social situations and we are helpless to stop it. Work, concerts, coffeeshops, stores, the city streets, even digital spaces. Everywhere we have to go, we face the crowd.
The crowd we are plunged into without choice is the most dangerous thing. It is so easy to adopt the values of the people around you, even when you didn’t choose those people.
Many people complain privately that they hate their job, their boss, and perhaps some of their co-workers. Yet they fail to stop these people from rubbing off on them. It’s like breaking up from a relationship, but still retaining the mannerisms your learned from your former partner.
We are taught to listen openly and treat all opinions equally… but this is a garbage idea. It’s good to treat people with equal respect, but terrible to treat all ideas with equal respect. Ideas must be judged on their merits, and you can judge how reliable the source of an idea is.
If my only tie to a person is that we both work at the same shitty job, they are the last person I will seek advice from.
On the flip side — if I happen to meet someone who has a life that looks a lot like my own dreams, I’ll listen closely. When advice from this person contradicts my own ideas, I start by assuming that I am in the wrong.
There is no contradiction between protecting yourself from the crowd, and being kind to strangers. The only strangers who require you to “defend yourself” from their advice, are the ones who can’t mind their own business or take a hint in the first place.
In the Stoic tradition, I’ll leave you with a pair of quotes from a thinker much greater than me: Seneca.
(1) “Withdraw into yourself, as far as you can. Associate with those who will make a better person of you. Welcome those whom you yourself can improve.”
(2) “Choose as a teacher one whom you will admire more when you see them act than when you hear them speak.”