Why Do People Want To Be Told What To Do?

I remember being in school and studying Islam (no, this isn’t about Islam per se, just bear with me) and how Muhammed wanted to both attract Jews and Christians to the faith and lay down all these new restrictions on those who converted.

At the time, I started thinking, “So you’re going to tell them to stop doing stuff they might like to do, make them pray a good chunk of the day, and this will convert people?” I thought it was a miracle Islam didn’t die right then and there.

But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed something. People seem to actually like being told what to do.

Take a look around the world of fitness, for example. Look at what passes for popular movements, and a lot of them tell you precisely what to do, how to do it, and when to do it.

Starting Strength, for example, lays out a particular program for people to undertake from day 1 and on, theoretically into infinity. Yoga gives people an entire lifestyle to follow. CrossFit does the same thing, though in a different way.

People love it when they’re being told precisely what to do. They want someone to stand there and tell them, “You’re going to squat three times per week. Here’s why, but you’re either going to do it or you’re not doing my program.”

Now, in fairness, if you’re doing a program, you should probably do what the hell it says.

But this isn’t unique to fitness.

As Christian denominations have opened up and begun to tone down its rhetoric, attendance at churches has dropped. They’re not telling people to do nearly as much and people aren’t responding.

Self-help books tend to be huge, in part because they tell people what to do. Personal finance books do the same thing.

Years ago, I picked up the Rich Dad, Poor Dad books at a local bookstore. They were easy and quick to read, but they included definite instructions on how to create wealth. You had to start a business.

Now, let me clue you in on something, and this is the voice of experience talking here. Starting a business isn’t something everyone should do. It’s not even remotely a good idea for some people to start a business. Running a business requires long hours, hard work, and an understanding in a bunch of subjects most people don’t even begin to comprehend.

But I read it and thought, “Hmmm…I guess I need to start a business.”

So, I did.

Well, sort of. I joined a multi-level marketing (MLM) company that sold telecommunications projects. It was supposedly an easy way to get started in businesses and this particular one was free, which was great because I was broke.

But I didn’t know a damn thing about it. I wasn’t a salesman, and it was a sales-based business.

I blindly followed where the author, Robert Kiyosaki, led me. I was a sheep.

For me, though, I grew out of it. I liked the idea of having my own business, so I started looking and dreaming in that regard. Eventually, I got there and did it a few times with varying degrees of abject failure.

It was enough to learn that it’s not the One True Path by any stretch of the imagination.

Yet people still just about worship those books. They try and fail and because they’re still passionate about it, they don’t see the pitfalls there for others.

But that leads to the question of why people want to be told what to do with their time, money, and even lives. Why?

That’s easy.

You see, making decisions is hard. Making up your mind to do a given thing is difficult. Especially when failure is an option.

People don’t know what to do and they fear making mistakes. Society laughs at people’s screw-ups. It laughs at failures. We know it does because we all do it to some degree.

Even if no one these folks knows would laugh at them, they’re still terrified of making a wrong decision.

So, they turn to “experts.” I put that word in quotes because while some people are undoubtedly knowledgeable on the topic they’re pontificating on, still others may be nothing more than glorified and legally-protected con men.

They can’t make up their minds and they don’t want to be convinced. They want to be ordered.

They don’t want a mentor, someone who can help them make wise decisions, they want a shepherd. They want someone to direct their little sheep selves to go about their lives and achieve whatever it is they want.

Or not.

The funny thing about so many of these “shepherds” is that they have a built-in shield. If you fail, it’s because of something you did, not that their instructions were total bull. You didn’t lift enough weight or you didn’t invest enough or you didn’t sacrifice the right kind of chicken as you danced counter-clockwise around a picture of Nicki Minaj’s booty. Failure is always on you.

So you shrug and say, “OK, my bad. I did something wrong, so time to delve in again.”

Now, I’m not saying it’s never you that’s at fault. Sometimes, you screwed up. I sure as hell did. Someday, I’ll chronicle just my business screw-ups and tell you how little I actually learned from them at the time. Seriously, it’s scary how stupid I’ve been.

To make matters worse, there’s also the reality that anyone trying to help people without resorting to treating folks like sheep are fighting a damn uphill battle.

Honestly, I’m pretty sure that if I laid out a precise method toward life improvement for guys, I’d have people tripping all over themselves in no time flat to take me up on what I do. I’d probably have a legion at my beck and call, ready to do whatever the hell I say. They’d put their lives in my hands.

The thing is, I don’t want that.

Look, what most of these gurus don’t tell you is that their lives have been all kinds of jacked up too. They learned the only real way one can learn, and that’s from their mistakes. At best, they’re trying to help you learn from their mistakes too, but far too many of those folks aren’t trying to help you learn. They just want to fleece you like they do the rest of the sheep.

Truth be told, there are things I think you should do. I think you should strength train. I think you should learn to handle yourself in a fight. I think you should do a lot of things.

But I’m not going to pretend that my way is the only path to enlightenment. I’m not peddling a One True Way. I’m simply proposing a way.

People like to be told what to do, and if you’re not willing to tell them that way so they don’t have to think for themselves, they ignore you.

Which is fine. Let the sheep be fleeced.

I’d rather connect with warriors, scholars, poets, and philosophers who can think for themselves and can discuss and debate ideas rather than True Believers who simply follow the herd wherever the shepherd takes them…even if it’s right off a cliff.


Author: Tom

Tom is a husband, father, novelist, opinion writer, and former Navy Corpsman currently living in Georgia. He's also someone who has lost almost 60 pounds in a safe, sustainable way, so he knows what he's talking about.

One thought on “Why Do People Want To Be Told What To Do?”

  1. One reason people like being told what to do is that it mimics the structure we’re all accustomed to from our upbringing. 12 years of school, 4 more of college, and then the work-force until death.

    In each, there is a defined amount of time (short and long term), and specific instructions. We’re guided. If we want to learn something, there’s a class or after work seminar just for that.

    That’s a hard pattern to break out of. So when we want to learn something in life, we tend to find someone or something that will help, instead of trying to figure it out on our own where there is (as you mentioned) a chance of failure.

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