Mark Twain: Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority…

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority,” said Mark Twain, “it’s time to pause and reflect.”
I’ve always had a similar sort of knee-jerk reaction to whatever everyone else thinks, and have always felt out of step with the rest of the world. I always thought it was a reaction to never really fitting in as a kid, but I’m coming to suspect that it operated the other way around. I never really fit it as a kid, because I’ve never been the sort of person who fit in. And I don’t want to be.
I remember playing dodge ball—the athletic kids would form a perimeter and the nonathletic kids would herd together into the center. And that was where the ball was sent. Despite being completely unable to throw or catch, the entire idea of joining that group was absurd. It seemed like the clump was the main target: why would I deliberately make myself part of that. I was far happier to strike out on my own, far from the others. I didn’t win, but I felt like I would at least last longer in the game.
There is another way of looking at it, however. I clearly don’t care much whether my opinions are popular, I care whether they are grounded in reality as reflected by logic and my intuition. Sometimes I do choose to follow the herd, sometimes I make the conventional choice. And sometimes, even when I make a more unconventional choice, I do so within the context of a community of others who have made the same choice.
If I really were the knee-jerk iconoclast that it sometimes feels like, probably I would make more contrarian choices than I actually do. In the opening quotation, Mark Twain doesn’t say, “change your mind,” he says, “pause and reflect.” You might choose to continue on the same course, even if you are on the side of the majority. The important part, then, is the pause and the reflection. Having the independence of mind to not automatically align yourself with the majority, or against the majority, but to follow an inner guide.