“So, when the governor spoke and asked them, ‘Which of the two do you want me to release for you?’, they said, ‘Barabbas.’ Pilate said to them, ‘But in that case, what am I to do with Jesus who is called Christ?’ They all said, ‘Let him be crucified!’ He asked, ‘But what harm has he done?’ But they shouted all the louder, ‘Let him be crucified!’ Then Pilate saw that he was making no impression, that in fact a riot was imminent…Then he released Barabbas for them. After having Jesus scourged he handed him over to be crucified.” (New Jerusalem Bible, Matt: 27: 21 – 24, 26).
The above excerpt from the bible shows the impact of public opinion on decision making. Note that Barabbas was a criminal and murderer, who harassed the Romans and caused problems for the Jews. He might be called a rebel but his actions caused trouble for innocent Jews as well. However, when they were asked to choose between Barabbas and the man that fed and healed them, the Jews chose Barabbas. It could be many people in the crowd had no interest in who was released and who was held.
It is also possible some preferred Jesus but were afraid to say so because they would be attacked by the majority. You can also say that some shouted “Jesus!” but their voices were drowned by the thunderous “Barabbas”. Irrespective of what happened that day, the governor only heard and adhered to the voices of the majority. He chose public opinion.
Before going further, you might need to go back to that excerpt and notice the lack of reasoning displayed by the crowd. Observe that when Pilate asked, “But what harm has he done?” the crowd did not or, rather, could not answer the question. They continued shouting “Let him be crucified” without stating why. Of course, Pilate must have known Jesus was innocent but because he didn’t want an uprising, or because he wanted to win the next election, or maybe just because he didn’t want a fall out with Caesar, he had Jesus crucified. Many people today are like Pilate: they know the truth but they ignore it because they want to stay relevant. They are afraid of the consequences of being the lone voice. They do not want to be attacked by the majority. These and more are ways public opinion negatively influences decisions.
It is, however, pertinent to note that making a decision based on popular opinion has both good and bad sides. So long as a person lives in a society, he is bound to witness ideologies and opinions held by many. Sometimes, the person faces intra and interpersonal conflicts as a result of the dilemma to choose between public and personal views. Of course, it is not everything that is accepted by the public that is suitable for an individual and so he needs to decide whether he should flow with the public or simply be himself.
There is this saying that goes, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” The Igbo version of this can be translated thus, “The Mr. Know It All that knows an adolescent vulture.” These quotes may make it seem as if it is wrong to be smart but what it is actually positing is that it takes being smart to know when to do the right thing. This is to say that sometimes, a person needs to let his decision be guided by the opinion of the majority.
For instance, public opinion can help a person to detect challenges faced by a community and how to solve or avoid them. It can also reveal and oppose unfavorable government policies and practices. The scriptural excerpt given above reveals that ignoring public opinion can lead to an avoidable uprising. It is, therefore, important that a person listens to what people around him have to say about an issue before reaching a conclusion or making a decision.
However, it will be good to understand that public opinion can be easily manipulated. For instance, in the scriptural excerpt given above, the crowd’s decision to crucify Jesus and release Barabbas was influenced by the chief priests (Matt. 27: 20). This is obtainable today, where the media, opinion leaders, political leaders, religious leaders, rebels, and what have you manipulate the information they pass on to others to influence their decisions.
Usually, these people have selfish interests that will be achieved if their implanted opinions become impactful. This is the bane of leaders and people, who decide to have views different from that of the majority. Nevertheless, for a person to avoid falling victim to such manipulators, he needs to trace the origin of the view and decipher its motivation. By so doing, he will avoid moving with the crowd, especially when they are all heading for the cliff.