The “Bad Many” Vs the “Different Many”

This Seneca quote suggests how we should react to and view each group

Different flower

“You should neither become like the bad because they are many, nor be an enemy of the many because they are unlike you.” Seneca the Younger, in Letters from a Stoic

This quote made my head spin a little bit at first.

The first part is clear. Don’t behave badly just because everyone is. So many examples come to mind. You shouldn’t lie to customers about the product you’re selling just because your colleagues are doing so. 

“All my friends were cheating on the test too,” is an excuse that has never worked for high schoolers caught cheating. Neither has “All the other cars were going just as fast,” for drivers pulled over for speeding.

You shouldn’t do bad things just to fit in with the majority either. Teenagers are especially susceptible to this desire to fit in. Even if the majority of peers are not doing it, teenagers think they are. According to them, everyone in school either smokes, drinks, is promiscuous, shoplifts, cheats, or whatever.

As we get older, the impulse to fit in gives way to a perceived need to conform to a “corporate culture,” a “party dogma,” or to the way “it’s always been.” Even if doing so involves becoming “like the bad,” we fall in line because everyone else is in line, and because it’s safe and convenient.

In the second half of the quote, Seneca asks us not to reject the many because they are unlike us. The “many” of the first half are a bad bunch. The “many” of the second half are just different.

There’s a huge distinction! Seneca, in all his wisdom, does not refer to the “bad many” or the “different many” separately, thus giving us no excuse to automatically equate “different from us” with “bad.”

Unspeakable human tragedy has resulted from our inability (and refusal) to separate “different” from “bad” and from the exploitation of this terrible tendency.

On a personal level, we’ve all been guilty of automatically -and wrongly-judging “different” as “bad.” We need to admit where we’ve done so, change our ways and make amends.

Day 11 of 30-day writing challenge on a single topic: Quotes from Seneca the Younger’s Letters from a Stoic.

Why this topic? Because I can’t get over how timely and brilliant Seneca’s words are -2,000 years after he wrote them.

Share Article