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A Short Note on Bridge Jumping

A Short Note on Bridge Jumping

Bridge Jumping

When you were a kid and wanted to do something your parents or teachers didn’t like, you may have heard the question, “If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you?”

The idea is that it’s not good to do something stupid, even if everyone else does it. The logic is think for yourself instead of following the crowd.

It’s not bad advice, even if it’s sometimes used to exert control more than to support independent thinking.

Then, you grow up and suddenly the tables are turned. People start expecting you to behave exactly as they do. If you don’t conform to their expectations, some of them get confused or even irritated.

It’s almost as if they are asking: “Hey, everyone else is jumping off the bridge. Why aren’t you?”

The irony of this is lost on everyone who is busy lining up to take the leap. The logic shifts from independent thinking to groupthink. If everyone else is doing it, it must be right.

I began this site five years ago to help bring the childhood message up to adulthood application. Ignore those people jumping off the bridge. Make your own decisions. Live your own life.

Asking why? to everything like a three-year-old is helpful in making sure you don’t jump off the bridge. Whenever confronted by a request or obligation, ask the question:

“Why should I do that?”

When the answer comes back, “Just because,” or “Because that’s what everyone does,” you know you’re looking over the bridge again. In any given day, you’ll confront this issue at least once. This fact is somewhat unavoidable. Whether you jump or not, however, is up to you.

The counsel you received at a young age was correct, even if the people giving it to you weren’t that great at following it themselves.

Why jump off the bridge just because other people do?

***

I told this story in 63 cities on my first book tour long ago. The message still holds: think for yourself! Live for your own choices.

You can do good things for yourself and for others too—it’s not a false choice.

Comments here.

###

Image: Troy

53 Comments

  • Tremendous! Maybe I need a daily affirmation that includes this. Thanks for reminding me why I keep doing things differently to those around me.

  • Sylvia says:

    This was an excellent reminder. Great post. Thank you Chris!

  • Maybe everyone is jumping off the bridge because it is on fire! If a bunch of people were jumping off the “corporate monotony bridge”, I might decide to jump off too.

  • Henry says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Chris.

    I know when I was discussing with my parents about what I should do with my life, I’d often question certain aspects of the typical American lifestyle — the drudgery of a 9 to 5, the consumption based entertainment we’re expected to inundate ourselves in, the assumption that it’s best to find a real job straight out of college, and so on.

    Their response when I questioned their values would often be, “Well, that’s just what people do.”

    Some days, I still wonder if there is some hidden logic behind the “standard” life that I’m not seeing, and if I’m not making a huge mistake by taking my own road. However, I’m enjoying what I’m doing now, and I don’t feel as though I’m compromising my future in any way.

    The ordinary life will still be waiting for me if I later choose to go in that direction. That’s enough comfort for me.

  • Jehangir06 says:

    Thanks for this, Chris.

    I guess the challenge is understanding what makes us join the queue in the first place. Over 30 years ago, the number of queues available to join were proportionate to the options available. Thanks to technology there are more options available and more people sharing their choices with others.

    Being resilient, pushing through the conventionality that confronts daily is a tad easier when you know that there are others like you, others who are happiest finding (or in some cases building) their own bridges to jump off.

    Thank heavens for the connectivity that the world wide web brings and the infinite bridges it provides with queues of one.

  • Great post. What if you ask “why” so much that it impedes your ability to take a leap into a big creative project, which for me is an around the world trip to work with and write about organizations empowering women. I ask myself the why daily, which often leads to feeling overwhelmed by the unknown. When is it time to stop asking why and take the leap?

  • You know, before reading this post, I had never given this much thought. I mean, I’ve thought about how stupid it is to do something just because someone else does it. But I never connected it back to “don’t jump off a bridge.” This is a great illustrative story!

    As a side note, with a title like “A short note on bridge jumping,” I was totally expecting to read about someone who’s perfected the art of bridge jumping as an extreme sport.

  • A very timely message for me today! In fact, I was just notified that I have a “comment” waiting for me to moderate in which I was “offered” 1000 visitors to my (apparently poorly done) website.

    I get so many messages that I’m blogging wrong, posting on FB incorrectly and not using Google+ to my best advantage.

    I think that’s one of the things I appreciate most about your blog, Chris: you are very supportive and encouraging.

    Thanks so much!

  • Wolf says:

    I think a lot of people know this, they WOULD LIKE to go their own way but think the economy, the government, their genetics, the competition, their lacking resume, their lacking qualifactions or anything of the like confine them so they have to conform.
    But once someone realizes it’s all within our reach we can go OUR way, do things the way we WANT to do them.
    It might not be easy, it might not conform to the ‘standard’ – it might not what people around you like, it might not be ‘realistic’ but with all intents and purposes: It’s possible.

  • Ree Klein says:

    Mind blowing…thanks, I needed that that!

  • Owen Marcus says:

    I had the fortunate situation of only being able to succeed by not doing what others were doing. As a kid I would have given anything to be like others and be able to do like others.

    Now I feel very fortunate learning that being and doing things differently is not only more fun… it’s the short path to success.

    Whenever I find myself feeling frustrated because I can’t do it like others, I stop and find a better way. I do fail. But my failures are course corrections.

    Great post Chris.

  • Pamela says:

    Thanks for the morning smile! I was just having a conversation yesterday with a very nice woman which turned towards teens and the dangers of conforming. She obviously thought that the conformist mentality was a big problem with young people, but when hearing my kids are taking an alternative educational path instead of a traditional one, her brow furrowed and I could see the worry on her face. It seems she felt that kids only need to question ideas other young people came up with, but they should blindly leap off the bridges designed by adults. I see this attitude a lot~ that kids and teens should be chained to a 9-5 life of enforced and often boring structure, even among people who are otherwise fairly free thinkers and it just baffles me.

  • Vince says:

    This runs deep with most people and it is scary! People have certain beliefs that they cling onto since a young age simply because others told them to do so but they don’t understand whether it’s valid or even if it’s true. You sometimes need to step back and analyze what you think is true. Is it true because you came to that conclusion or is it something you never dared to question?

    I suppose a common idea is that “traveling is expensive and it’s something I can never do!” Then when you ask them what exactly about it is expensive they’ll give you a blank stare.

  • Jesse Barger says:

    It’s funny how often I have to remind myself of this lesson. It’s something I’m very aware of, yet it still seems easy to just fall in line with everyone else. It’s almost like we’re brain washed into conforming no matter how ridiculous the act is. I guess you just have to stay diligent and remind yourself daily and situation by situation so you can be sure that you’re actually making your own decisions and not just following the herd!

  • Chris says:

    As a former collegiate diver I enjoy diving from (not unreasonably) high places. Nothing above 50 ft or so. So this article is not what I expected, but is a very worthwhile read.

  • Not jumping says:

    The hardest area to apply this idea for me is with my family. Since I was a kid, I’ve been reminded that I should consider what my family thinks before making choices. If my parents or grandparents think it’s a good idea, then it’s OK. But if they disagree, it must be wrong.

    It took me a long time to realize that living my life that way felt trapped and stunted. I know they were trying to guide me and do what they thought was best for me, but I don’t think they understood that they had to let to sometime! It was strange to be an adult with my own children, yet following my parents’ directions like I was still a child myself.

    You have to look closely to see the indoctrination you’re obeying, I guess. Don’t be surprised when people respond negatively to you when you step away from it.

  • Excellent point, something I call counterintuitive living. I have been thought crazy for years by most who know me because I am in bed by 8:30pm so I can get up at 4am to read, write, and get a workout in. It is not easy going against the norm of staying up late but the rewards of living a life by design is well worth the ridicule. Great article!

  • What I think is even funnier (aka Felicity’s comment) is that most people think YOU are the one jumping off the bridge when you take a turn they wouldn’t in your life. Chris, I thought your post would be about taking the leap into the unknown, the unconventional!

    I remember many years ago when I told my mother I wanted to be a yoga teacher (I was already in my master’s program for counseling), she said “can’t you think of anything better to do with your time?” Hmmm, guess my mom thought I’d be jumping off a bridge.

    Well, I did and my life has been pretty magical. I was even able to share with my mom my inspiration for becoming an Interfaith Minister, too. Maybe it was her dementia, or maybe she just came to accept me, because now she just says, “that’s wonderful, sweetheart.”

    Or maybe I just came to accept me, and it didn’t matter what she said anymore. :)

  • Rick Langdon says:

    Important reminder. Thanks Chris.

    It also reminds me of the question you asked a couple of weeks ago about fluoridation of the entire water system in Portland. In that article you seemed to be saying that Portland’s collective choice to not fluoridate the water supply was wrong given that “everyone else is doing it”.

    Situations like this truly makes one think.

  • I’ve been trying to explain this lately to loved ones…they don’t get it. Argh. I should just email the link, shouldn’t I?

  • nate alger says:

    well said! Thanks for this great reminder.

  • As usual a though provoking post.

    I for one think most people should jump off the bridge.

    It is far less scarier than what happens to you years later when you realized what you missed by not jumping.

    Maybe the best thing we can do is push the other reluctant souls off of the bridge as an act of compassion. Some people really do need that push.

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  • Gigi says:

    Love this, Chris! Thanks for the reminder.

  • Danny says:

    Eric Burdon (saw him last night – still amazing at 72 years old!) says it well:

    It’s my life and I’ll do what I want
    It’s my mind and I’ll think like I want
    Show me I’m wrong, hurt me sometime
    But some day I’ll treat you real fine
    I’ll treat you so fine, babe
    I’ll give you everything, everything you want

    Not sure how applicable the last few lines are, but hey it’s rock n roll!

  • David Galiel says:

    Being mindlessly reactive – whether by automatically conforming or by knee-jerk rebelling – is useless as a guideline to effective behavior.

    The effect of the impact of the human body dropping from a given height on a body of water of a particular depth depends on physics, not emotion – and certainly not on how many other people are or are not doing it. Under certain physical conditions, it can be fun. Under other physical conditions, it can be deadly. Popularity is irrelevant.

    Question all claims, particularly those that confirm your biases. Apply reason and use the proven toolkit of the scientific method to determine the facts upon which to base an informed decision.

    As John Adams noted, “facts are stubborn things.”

  • Jeff Urmston says:

    There are times in my work life where I get caught up in the race. The race to the top. To better promotions. To better whatever. In the moment it’s so easy to get swept away by the bridge jumpers. But sometimes I’m able to invoke my inner 3-year-old and ask, “A race to where?” This helps put things in perspective.

    Thanks Chris!

  • I see that everyone else is commenting so I feel I also need to comment.

    But honestly, good observation and great advice. One of the issues people face daily, in their careers and their personal lives, is the sheer WEIGHT of outside expectations.

    Independent, innovative thinking is highly sought after in the business world precisely because it’s such an aberration, regularly stomped to pieces by colleagues and supervisors. Those that can tough it out, think in new and creative ways, and have the force of will to turn ideas into action are usually the guys who leave those businesses to enjoy a nice, exciting life of doing-what-they-love. That makes innovative thinking a commodity you can trade on. Best to deal in rare and valuable things.

  • William says:

    Great reminder, milk many cows but make your own cheese. we glean from many sources but at the end of the day, the bottom line decision is up to me.
    thanks

  • Jo says:

    This morning at the local shopping centre I saw about 40 “oldies” all listening to someone. Then they disappeared. It turned out they were a walking group and “they walk for an hour and then sit in the cafe for two hours”. As I too, am (a young) oldie I thought how lucky I am to be flying out (NZ) tonight to L A , Dallas, London , Madrid and who knows where else for the next 6 months…..On my own. No doubt those people would think me brave/ odd/ strange etc for not fitting the norm. I love my retired life of travel. :-) only coming home to keep getting my pension. LOL

  • I am so glad I signed up for your newsletter. I needed to be reassured on losing the hive mentality.

  • Chris, I love how you flipped this metaphor.

    “It’s almost as if they are asking: ‘Hey, everyone else is jumping off the bridge. Why aren’t you?’”

    To this I would say: the bridge is not high enough. Let me rephrase: remarkable enough. Anyone can jump a few meters, but not anyone can jump the giant cliff.

  • Lovenia says:

    Wow, this is such a profoundly refreshing take on a common piece of wisdom that is so often overlooked… in adulthood, just like you said. It is absolutely right and even practical to use this idea is a guiding principle for our adult lives. Practical for those wishing to live life outside of the box anyway. Wonderful post!

  • Anna says:

    This a great post!! Always follow your instincts.

  • Akinsola says:

    Many at times we believe joining the band wagon is what is right, doing what others expect of us or what they think we should, but in my study of outstanding people they are people that didn’t conform to the standard expectations of others but rather others conformed to them.

  • Thanks Chris. I have always hated the answer “because we’ve always done it that way.” As a middle aged man I have gone back to college so I can get a piece of paper that will show HR departments that I can do what I have done for 20 years. I find it disturbing how many college students just want to be told what to think, instead of learning cognitive reasoning skills. The unfortunate truth is that the system we have is a lemming generating machine.

  • Steve Hayes says:

    Really nice views and a good reminder that we have to focus on what we think is the right thing to do. And you quoted “If everyone else is doing it, it must be right”… well, I know for sure that a lot of people really believe on that, which is unfortunate.
    But sometimes we just have to do our own choices because is really difficult to change the whole world.
    Nice article by the way.
    Thank you!

  • If we do anything but, we might as well be lemmings. Great analogy to bridge-jumping.

  • Alex says:

    Wow, Chris. You’ve managed to distill this whole movement into one post. Put it in words better than I could. This is one of your finest posts.

  • Thanks Chris for the reminder.

    Simply put from my perspective, questioning is essential because if you don’t question your own thoughts, you are run by your conditioned mind which is full of false ideas and beliefs from a lifetime of other people’s programming.

    You are only as free as you question your own thoughts and beliefs.

  • Vivienne says:

    Very thought provoking post (as always!). I’ve always tried to be independent, to think independently, to live an independent life… but it’s damn hard sometimes! Especially when it comes to the really core stuff… you can’t avoid the fact that we are biologically & socially programmed to follow the herd (I’ve been reading some stuff about this recently, & it makes sense). Even non-conformists usually have their support group :-) … but a big part of self-acceptance is to accept all this, that fear can be a REALLY big motivator sometimes, and to keep moving in the direction we consciously choose.

  • Kathleen says:

    I love this analogy and how it puts the phrase we no doubt all heard growing up into such great perspective. I am going to think of this more often as I make decisions.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

  • Great advice, Chris! Thanks for sharing.

  • Donna McKamy says:

    I jumped off the bridge when I was a teen. Everyone else was doing it and it looked fun. Everyone came up and swam to shore. I hit bottom with my head. Slightly stunned me for a moment. Luckily I did come up. As I did I saw all my friends poised on the bridge ready to jump in and look for me. I swam to shore. All was well. I shiver whenever I think how close I came to dying or being paralyzed. I jumped off the bridge because everyone else did. Lesson learned.

  • This is something I am always pondering more of these days. I find the traditional job secure and something I was taught I need to pursue. My father (most of the family) are all entrepreneurs and find that it is getting harder everyday to overcome certain aspects of “big brother”. They always tell me to pursue the security of the corporate world…I find this to be such a oxymoron because they are telling me to do the opposite of what they have done (all very, very successful by the way). Honestly, I am ready to live a life of non-conformity / bridge jump following yet I have decided to make a plan and take a slower approach than I would like due to the responsibilities as a newer husband. Thanks Chris. Congrats on reaching your goal.

  • Great message! Unfortunately too many people would rather follow then make choices for themselves. Maybe they think it more secure to do what everyone else is doing. Make a choice but make sure its the choice that you truly want.

  • Craig Coggle says:

    Jumping off the bridge is fine… as long as it’s a conscious choice to do so :)

  • In the part of the world where I grew up, though we did not speak English, yet, we had very a similar saying with the same meaning as well. And yes, it was quite often used by elders to admonish us children. Translated in English, it was “If everyone else would jump into the well, would you too?”

    Meaning wise, it meant, think of taking a decision on your own and do not follow the crowd blindly.

    How interesting!

  • Pathan Imran Khan says:

    This is exact solution for peer pressure among teenagers. Great post!

  • Jesicka says:

    Great post, Chris-
    Thanks for putting it in that perspective. The same people who told us NOT to jump off the bridge are doing it now! What an interesting phenomenon. I especially liked the part where you said you started this site “to help bring the childhood message up to adulthood application.” Awesome!

    I found your site a couple years ago and have been coming back to read time and again, and congrats on visiting all countries, I remember when you were not finished yet! :) This is my first comment on your site. Thanks for the inspiration!

    Much love,
    Jes

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