A few years ago, I went to the local high school’s first home football game, which, like most home openers, was well-attended.
Afterward, I was exhausted. I mean, absolutely exhausted, like I had lead around my shoulders. I’d had a hard week at work, but the level of exhaustion was practically preternatural.
I realized the next day that I frequently have that feeling after returning home from many hours among crowds: the feeling of exhaustion.
The experience also tends to put me in a bad mood. Or, more precisely, it puts me in a different frame of mind that I don’t find pleasant. It’s like the experience somehow upsets my (already limited) equanimity.
My distaste for crowds doesn’t rise to the level of agoraphobia, but it’s nonetheless pretty sharp. I don’t know where it comes from (Do I dislike people? Am I weird? Am I so self-conscious (vain) that I’m constantly on edge when others can see me?).
Regardless of where it comes from, I don’t think I can help it: like it or not, when I come back from an event with crowds, I’m out of sorts.
A few weeks later, I was going through my highlightings in Seneca’s letters. I came across his comments about crowds. They gave me comfort:
[W]hat you should regard as especially to be avoided? I say, crowds. . . [When I go out among crowds] I never bring back home the same character that I took abroad with me. . . . To consort with the crowd is harmful; there is no person who does not make some vice attractive to us, or stamp it upon us, or taint us unconsciously therewith. . . . I come home more greedy, more ambitious, more voluptuous, and even more cruel and inhuman, because I have been among human beings.
So, if I’m weird, I take comfort knowing I stand in company with the great Seneca.
Seneca, incidentally, explained why crowds aren’t good for virtue. I think he’s at least partly right:
Much harm is done by a single case of indulgence or greed; the familiar friend, if he be luxurious, weakens and softens us imperceptibly; the neighbor, if he be rich, rouses our covetousness; the companion, if he be slanderous, rubs off some of his rust upon us, even though we be spotless and sincere. What then do you think the effect will be on character, when the world at large assaults it!