Recently I diagnosed myself as suffering from an acute case of Herdophobia, an anxiety disorder related to being amongst too many people. Actually, I think I have been suffering from it for quite some time now. Only recently did I start looking into it after taking an ocean cruise over the holidays. Our ship was one of the larger ones which held approximately 2,500 passengers. Although there were mostly Americans on board, there were a lot of other cultures represented including China, Japan, Western Europe, and several Spanish speaking countries. It was most definitely a heterogeneous environment. Despite their cultural differences, most of the passengers appeared to get along harmoniously as long as they were supervised by the ship’s crew. However, when they were turned loose under their own accord, bedlam ensued as people came down with a bad case of the stupids. At least that was my perspective of the situation.

Wanting to know more about my problem, I checked medical resources on the Internet. I read about such things as Enochlophobia, Demophobia, and Agoraphobia, all of which relate to the fear of crowds. In all cases though, the descriptions seemed to miss the mark as to my concerns. They talked about panic attacks related to escaping from confined areas, fear of being trampled or crushed, not being able to breath, or to perhaps contract a disease. Nope, none of this described my ailment, therefore I invented my own, Herdophobia.

The premise behind Herdophobia is simple, people tend to act like herds of animals in group settings. Herds obviously need to be supervised and controlled or you run the risk of creating a stampede thereby inflicting damage. We see herd behavior at beaches, sporting events, carnivals and open-air events, in traffic, and in my case, on cruise ships. As intelligent as we would like to believe we are, the human animal must be carefully organized and supervised in group settings. If unchaperoned and left to their own inclinations, helter skelter inevitably ensues and this is what lies at the root of my fear; chaos.

I tend to believe our greatest invention was not the wheel, as is popularly believed, but rather the line, whereby we are organized into a sequential process where everyone must take their fair turn. We see lines in banks, government offices, check out counters, painted on our highways, even the pews in churches are designed to keep people in order. We have been conditioned to behave better under such organization. Without lines, we do as we please and do not hesitate to step on the toes of others.

On the cruise ship, there was a large cafeteria style restaurant on board where you could get something to eat morning, noon, or night. Breakfast and dinners weren’t too much of a problem as most of the passengers were sleeping-in during the morning and eating in the main dining halls in the evening. Lunch was madness though. This particular cafeteria featured many islands specializing in different foods, such as pizza and pasta at one island, burgers at another, salads and soups at another, etc. Consequently, passengers would bounce from one island to another to pick up whatever food items pleased them. This bouncing effect caused people to run into each other frequently and instead of apologizing, they would grumble an unpleasantry even if they were the cause of the problem. There was no organization, no decorum, no supervision, and no manners whatsoever, a sort of dog-eat-dog environment, thereby turning what should have been a pleasant experience into a nightmare. It was at this point I became aware of my Herdophobia.

I am occasionally accused of being a control freak which may contribute to my anxiety, and there probably is a certain amount of truth to this. I do appreciate the need for such things as organization, punctuality, discipline, and cleanliness. I also disdain procrastination and lack of direction (I tend to subscribe to the school of “lead, follow, or get the heck out of the way”). More importantly though, I have little tolerance for rude behavior in large group settings, regardless of the culture you come from. A little patience, courtesy, such as “please” and “thank you,” and consideration for others in a group setting goes a long way with me. Unfortunately, I didn’t see anything remotely like this in the cafeteria, hence my Herdophobia flare up. My fear was not of entrapment, but of punching someone deservedly in the nose for running into me or cutting in front of me with no apology.

Humans are supposed to be the “intelligent animal,” who can apply logic and reason to solving problems, to express their creativity, and love thy neighbor. In large group settings though, the monkey gets the nod over man in the brains department.

Yes, I am Herdophobic, but I do not believe it is a true character flaw. Admitting you have a problem though is the first step towards conquering it. In the meantime, you would be wise to stay out of my way at the next public gathering.

Keep the Faith!

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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at [email protected]

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Copyright © 2011 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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