Some young cattle were boasting about their exploits to each other. One mentioned that she had snuck into the neighboring pasture and mentioned how green the grass had been there. A parrot heard. Later the parrot told another cow, “did you know the grass is greener on the other side of the fence?” “My, how interesting,” the cow replied, and went back to grazing. She later mentioned it to another member of the herd in off-hand conversation.  Between parrot chatter and the lighter talk of the cattle, soon it was a common, casual belief among the herd that the grass was greener in the other pasture. The animals’ behavior, however, was barely affected. They continued to graze as before.

One day a young, progressive bull was introduced to the herd. Assembling the animals, he explained that the day of lead bulls ruling by fiat was over, and that much better results would be obtained if the common cattle were consulted on major decisions. The plan seemed a promising one, or at least novel, and was accepted by the herd.

Unfortunately, the young bull found, there were no major decisions to be made. He cast about for something to be done and at last discovered the conversational conventional wisdom that the grass in the other pasture was greener. He was delighted.

He assembled the herd once more and asked for a vote. Did they, he asked, want to continue with the old ways where no one believed the grass was greener on the other side, or did they want to embrace a new future in line with the truism that the grass was greener on the other side.  He himself, he said, had not so much as looked at the other pasture and was willing to leave the decision entirely to them.   The cattle, who had all heard or said that the grass over there was greener, settled on the latter choice. “Then,” said the bull, “we must act accordingly.”

With the help of some younger bulls and a few steers and some of the meaner older cows, he chivvied the reluctant herd into the other pasture. Some cattle were injured in the passage through the fence, and a calf died. The new pasture, greener or not, had not been prepared for grazing. The cattle found it generally less sustaining and, where some noxious and unfamiliar weeds were eaten, a few died.

Moral: Opinion is a poor guide to the public’s wisdom.

Related quotation:

a state of things blights and kills simple and original feeling, which makes us think and speak and act under they tyranny of general opinion, which masquerades as liberty and means only submission to the newspapers

-thus Froude

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