written during my second month of freedom from smoking and originally posted on december 23, 2001; at the time, i was writing regularly at an online diary site called quitsmokingdiaries, and this was a rant about some of the fakes who were lurking around the site at that time.

the herd mentality

2009 January 18

we are herd animals. and when herd animals get separated from the herd, they get nervous. it's not "natural". it doesn't feel "right". it doesn't feel "normal". when we stop feeding our addiction, not only do we have to deal with physical withdrawal from the nicotine, we also have to deal with the psychological "withdrawal" of separation; because, when we stop smoking, we're leaving the herd.

the less smokers there are, the less reasonable it will seem to be one of them. the less smokers there are, the less likely it is that the rest of the world will be willing to accommodate them.

and it makes us nervous.

it also makes the herd nervous when an animal leaves: one of the biggest advantages to traveling in a herd is the protection it offers the members. in a herd, the most valuable members are always closest to the center: it's the place of honor; it affords the most protection from the dangers that lurk outside the herd. when animals leave the herd, the herd gets smaller. the center moves closer to the edge. and the entire herd finds this threatening; if the most valuable members of the herd are in greater danger, so is the entire herd.

has any of us not noticed that, when we decide to leave the herd, the great majority of our still-smoking friends and acquaintances seem less than supportive? has any of us never had the feeling that many of these same still-smoking friends and acquaintances would really like nothing better than to see us fail? why do you suppose that is?

because we're making them nervous. we're making the herd smaller. and they sense that, the smaller the herd becomes, the more danger they're in. the less smokers there are, the less reasonable it will seem to be one of them. the less smokers there are, the less likely it is that the rest of the world (the non-smokers and ex-smokers) will be willing to accommodate them. they see their "range" shrinking. they feel threatened. they don't want you to leave. it's self-preservation that motivates their attempts to sabotage your quit, to pull you back into the herd.

and if you study history in even the most superficial way, you know that there is no honor in self-preservation. the vast majority of people will do anything to survive, to maintain the status quo, to avoid the pain of change. if this was not the case, then self-sacrifice would not be noble; it would be commonplace. unremarkable. and heroes would be nothing special; they'd be a dime a dozen. there'd be one on every street corner.

this website, like most of the web, runs on the "honor system"; you can't see me, you don't know where i am or what i look like. and i can't see you, either; i have no way of knowing that you are what you say you are. but it doesn't really matter. what really matters is not what you look like, or how old you are, or what sex you are. what matters is what you say, what you do, what you contribute.

i look around this website, and i see people who i know are for real. i know they're walking the same road as me; i can hear it in their words. i can see it in their actions. i can feel it in their souls that they pour out on the virtual paper we all write on. i see them struggling with the same demons i've become intimately acquainted with over the last 33 days. i see them leaving notes of encouragement for their fellow strugglers.

i also see people that i know are phonies: i see anonymous notes written by cowards whose only apparent purpose here is to spew the vile refuse of their soul-less existence onto the screen in an attempt to discourage noble warriors who struggle daily with their own personal demons and who have the strength of character to prevail.

i see pseudo-anonymous attacks by pretenders who cry that their meager one-syllable posts aren't getting the attention that they deserve. sorry, if you want attention, you're in the wrong place. i'm struggling for my life here; if you've got something of value to offer, believe me, i'll notice it. otherwise, you're just taking up bandwidth; please do it somewhere else.

i see self-appointed vigilantes who have succumbed to the delusion that they are the sole arbiters of what is good and right, that they are the saviors of this website, of us all. sorry to disappoint you, but i'm too busy getting through today to have much patience with your delusions, or your arrogance. i'm perfectly capable of separating fantasy from reality, and i haven't got any room in my mind or my heart for pretenders.

i know who you are: you're the emissaries of the herd. well, i've left the herd; your bleating voices don't call to me any more.

i prefer the company of warriors.

17 responses leave one →
  1. 2004 April 16
    Juanita permalink

    Here, here!!



  2. 2004 May 3
    Sarah permalink

    I love it! I understanding precisely how you feel. My best friend is not especially supportive of my quit. Jealous heifer!

  3. 2004 June 12
    Kaye permalink

    I'm trying to cut my husband out of the herd. I want to change - he's not ready. He's less and less supportive the stronger I get in my quit. I want so much for him to see what I see and come with me on this incredible journey. I'm frustrated, sad, depressed, angry and I have all this energy which I wish we could burn up together. Just don't know what to do next.

  4. 2004 July 9
    Kerry permalink


  5. 2004 July 23
    fantashia permalink

    Some of my co-workers don't like it because I quit smoking. All I know is this year I wont have to go outside and freeze trying to get some nicotine in my system at break and lunch time. What these co-workers don't know is the more they try to push me into smoking again, the stronger I become and the more I see the nicotine demon inside them making them see me as a threat because I won my battle.

  6. 2004 December 20
    fightn4life permalink

    This struck a nerve, how right you are.

    Some days I feel so lonely for the friends I felt I once had as a smoker. A word, smile or glance is all I get at times. That is it. No conversation as before.

    I do not talk about quitting smoking, but it has drove a wedge in my personal life. I was thinking the other night at work all I wanted back was my friendship that some how got lost along with my quit.

    After reading this tale I understand this process is a lonely one at times. What I really want is to remain free from addiction. With or without all the friendships I thought I had at work. I have left the herd. If that makes some people nervous, so be it.

    Thank you Kevin, it helps so much to know we quitters are never really alone. You were once where I am today...I'll keep moving forward, it is the way I am going.

    I understand more every day why I have always started back...I never really understood the process.

    Over 13 months breathing free

  7. 2005 January 2
    a.b. permalink

    I left the herd for the most part 3
    years ago , but it is an ongoing effort
    to maintain my distance , for the herd
    is always trying to get us back .

  8. 2005 April 28
    Raven permalink

    Very good read...very true! I was sent here by a fellow quit friend when i asked her opinion on my "still smoking" co-workers and what i felt to be coolness where friendship once was, while non smoking friends all rallied around me...now i think i understand.

  9. 2006 April 11
    Tony permalink

    That's a great article and so true, I wish I had found it earlier.

    I am now in my 4th month of not smoking and am starting to call myself a "non-smoker". Read about my journey towards a non-smoking lifestyle at http://help-me-quit-smoking.blogspot.com

    Good luck!


  10. 2007 January 4
    Colleen permalink

    Even though Ive left the herd. I still have some loved ones, friends and co-workers still grazing. I havent had much negative response. But at times I think its more that they dont want to make me feel uncomfortable. I hope they quit someday because i care about them. But right now its more me i think trying to stay away from the smoking. I dont want to separate from them all forever.I hope i can be comfortable again with out temptation. Does that make since? This is still a very new, scary, confussing place for me right now. But i know its the one most important thing ill ever do for myself. Im waiting and welcomming the day that i feel much stronger and confident.

  11. 2007 January 12
    Mariko permalink

    I absolutely love this post, its soo true.

    This sentence you wrote is soo great "i prefer the company of warriors.". It makes me feel stronger just reading it, thank you!

  12. 2007 October 20
    Anna permalink

    I feel lucky to say that upon quitting after 25 years, my sister, who is also my best friend, and her husband both quit a week later. Instead of not being supportive they jumped on the bandwagon, and making sure my sister and her husband, who have 2 great little kids, don't go back, helps keep me in check

  13. 2008 July 28
    Kathy permalink

    I couldn't agree more. Last year when I had yet another attempt to quit my "best friend" who was a chain smoker did his utmost to make me take it up again - which I did with awful consequences. At the time I thought it really seemed like he didn't want me to get healthy even though I had already been in hospital twice with pneumonia. It really compromised our friendship which ended a few months after that for other reasons but the fact that he really didn't want me to stop smoking had a huge impact on me. I am now in my 22 day of freedom from smoking and have much more of a chance of quiting for good as almost all my friends now have already given the smokes away and it's so much easier than last time.

    Encouragement from friends, fear of dying from a stroke or heart attach and your website keep me going, and I really am starting to see every day as a beautiful day. Thanks Kevin and keep up the good work.

    Kathy - Sydney, Australia

  14. 2009 January 18

    note: the comments above were left on the original tale at the date and time indicated.

  15. 2009 November 8
    Matt permalink

    WOW Kevin... I needed to read this, I never throught about my smoking friends are a 'herd'. Its so true. One of my friends who has helped me choose failure on past quits had a saying 'god hates quitters'. I'm bookmarking this to read back on.

  16. 2012 February 18
    RYNO LOUW permalink

    i personally feel that smokers have a mentality of a brick !

  17. 2013 September 25
    jerzy permalink

    Superb! Generally I never read whole articles but the way you wrote this information is simply amazing and this kept my interest in reading and I enjoyed it.

leave a reply

Note: you can use basic xhtml in your comments. your email address will never be published.

subscribe to this comment feed via rss