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2009-10-22 digital edition

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2009-10-22 / Community News

Lemmings and Lines

The Norway Lemming is a species of rodent that is renowned for its mass migrations, sometimes leading to mass suicide because of their penchant for following one another right into the sea and drowning.

When I was younger, one of the admonishments my parents would use if they didn't want me to do something that one of my friends was doing went something like: "If she were to jump off a bridge, would you jump off a bridge, too?" Since talking back was frowned upon in my house, I didn't tell her what I was thinking: "If my friend was the type of person to randomly jump off bridges, she probably wouldn't have lived long enough to talk me into it."

It is amazing, though, that after all this time, that advice has not yet sunk in. As an adult, I still find myself waiting in line after line, following the crowd; never once thinking that there might be an alternative to what the crowd is doing. If there is a line, I am automatically drawn to it. Maybe because it's too much trouble to find an alternative, maybe because I didn't know they had an Express Lane, maybe because I subconsciously thought that if there was an alternative, surely someone else would have already thought of it. So, I stand there complaining about the wait.just like everybody else.

I still can't figure out why, if I am coming up to a toll booth, all the cars seem to be in the same lane. There could be five lanes open, but somehow, without thinking, I head for the one that has the most cars in it, because I think they must know something I don't. Perhaps it's faster, or isn't an exact change lane, or the attendant doesn't have a cold so she isn't sneezing on all the money. Whatever it is, it must be the best lane, because all these people are in it, right?

This is called the "Lemming Syndrome." Don't bother surfing the net for more details on it; I just made it up. Those little lemmings just play Follow The Leader in an apparent attempt to find food sources for the group they left behind. Something tells me that the lemmings left behind are older and infinitely wiser than those they send to "find food". They put the dumbest one in charge and tell him to take all the other nominds to find food on the other side of the "river". "You guys swim across the river and bring us back the food." The no-mind lemmings, with visions of sugarplums and heroism dancing in their heads, jump into the sea, start swimming, and realize too late that they had been set up. This isn't a river!

The older and wiser lemmings sit back and contemplate their future, which has become considerably rosier, now that the young no-minds are not there to eat all the food. They shake their little rodent heads and say sadly to each other "Such a shame they had to die so young. Please pass the mashed potatoes."

The few lemmings that did not follow the leader into the sea come back and take their place among the old and wise. They were ridiculed by the followers for being "chicken". The followers were mad at them for not following, but that didn't bother the wise lemmings. Come this time next year, they would not be part of the "food foraging party".

We, as humans, seem to take perverse pleasure in being exactly like one another. If someone else has it, we need it. Everything we do needs to be within a certain set of parameters that our society has set up as being "normal". The ones who take a different path are not only persecuted when they are young, but are also celebrated when they have eventually made a name for themselves. The rest of us say they were just lucky, but they know they've paid their dues and were, most likely, happy to do so.

Laura Snyder may be reached at lsnyder@lauraonlife.com.

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