I’ve been thinking a lot lately about homogeneity and the groupthink that is often a by-product of it. All of it makes me hurt (see blog six). Loosely homogeneous groups lack divergent perspectives and discriminable points of view. As a consequence, groupthink (defined as a pattern of thought characterized by self-deception, forced manufacture of consent, and conformity to group values and ethics) runs amok – rarely checked by group members of conscience. Groupthink is a mother….-shut your mouth! Lawmakers, who are to represent the best interests of the nation, stand in complicit agreement with liars and hate-mongers. A famed neurosurgeon, one once worthy of being called a role-model in my book, has been sucked in. Out of his famed arena, his recent rhetoric shows very few signs of the God he says lives within. Rather than tamping down the vitriol (God calls us to be peacemakers), he has amped it up and I have removed him from my book of role models; he just went too far. A few days ago he went into a very dark place when he invoked the institution of slavery as a realistic comparison to the Affordable Care Act. There was no mention of possibly taking an informed seat at the table to make the law better; tweaking it to make it better while still allowing it to serve the needs of millions. Or could it be that helping is not really the objective?
Groupthink is very dangerous. Because the rhetoric can feed upon itself, an alternate reality is often created. In the parallel universe, empathy, sympathy and civility are reserved for members only. Since members are the only ones who matter in their world, there is little or no remorse for the pain and anguish inflicted on folks outside of the group; the principle is paramount and everything and everybody else is expendable collateral. The original homogeneous members will use whatever and whoever they have to in order to reach their goals and then, the used up collateral is cast aside. (Be careful Dr. Carson. Perhaps you should talk to Michael Steele.) Groupthink can cause fair-minded people to loose sensibilities and inhibitions. Forgotten is the notion that it is possible to be sane and dignified while in opposition. We can all fall prey. It’s scary to believe we can sometimes find ourselves swept-up and acting crazy because we didn’t stop to think; didn’t stand for right but instead acquiesced to wrong.
Heading into the 2013 season, five players were dismissed from the Vanderbilt University football team; four of them banned from campus. The fifth student, a former football captain, wasn’t banned from campus, just from playing football for the University. Chris Boyd was suspended from the team for attempting to cover-up a rape committed by four underclassmen. This is a heinous case of groupthink; an all too familiar one. While Chris Boyd may have had reservations about protecting his teammates, the culture of football dictates that you protect your brethren in the locker room. Chris Boyd was apparently not strong enough to step out of the box to finger the guilty young men and, begin the healing process of the victim. I know there is often a lot of gray area shaded around us at times but, we have to remember the question (from the very flawed questioner), “what would Jesus do?”
On an E:60 report, Arianna Clay recounted her assault by a senior officer within the U. S. Marine Corps. One night, she went to a gathering that made her very uncomfortable. She described the atmosphere as surprisingly fraternity-like so she decided to leave. As she was leaving, a drunken senior officer asked her to go fetch something. She said no and walked home. Four hours later, alone in her house, she was awakened. The officer had come to exact some revenge for her saying no to him – and he brought a civilian friend. Initially, the friend tried to get the officer to leave but in the end, he followed the officer in raping Arianna Clay. She reported the incident and was labeled a troublemaker before eventually being discharged. The sexual predator got a slap on the wrist for calling Mrs. Clay a slut during the attack. My mouth is still open.
Groupthink is insidious. The cultures (parallel universes) are not created overnight. Impressionable athletes hear girls downgraded constantly on their fields and courts of play (you run like a girl, you hit like a girl, stop whining like a girl) and the unstable ones among them look to exact control and power over something or someone. Guess who they choose. In the armed forces, as a consequence of history, the decision-making commanding officers look just alike (my own observation as they testified before Congress). Back when these men were recruits, there were probably attitudes regarding women that would make our skin crawl. The culture was formed around those attitudes and the culture remains. The officers are fighting for the right to maintain the disgusting and inexcusable system that continually blames the victim in cases of sexual assault – they are fighting to maintain their power. While there may be some officers within, who believe that the decisions regarding a case’s merit should be determined objectively, groupthink keeps them virtually silent. In the meantime, hundreds continue to be assaulted by the predators within the ranks of brave men and women who take seriously their commitment to protect and serve.
God is calling us to greater than just walking in lock-step. He wants us to build meaningful relationships among people; we are to spread His love, grace and mercy among people. When He gives us opportunities to further His message, we should take them – step out of the box and take them. The youngest among us are often the catalysts for change because their experiences don’t yet limit their optimism or their conquering spirit.
Malala Yousafzai is an advocate for the education of girls in her native Pakistan. A risky proposition for sure but her family encourages her to do what she believes in. One day, during Malala’s twelfth year of existence, a member of the Taliban shot her three times at point blank range. Malala miraculously survived because God orchestrated it that way. She is now more resolute in her fight for educational equality and her audience of supporters has grown so much that she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize this year. While she didn’t win the Nobel Award, she won the $65,000 Sakharov Award, Europe’s top human rights award and her 16th birthday found her speaking before the assembly of the United Nations. What others meant for evil, God is still turning to good.
Bethany Hamilton lost an arm to a shark when she was thirteen. In the process of healing, she fortified her footing. One month after the attack, the Soul-Surfer returned to the water. One year later, she was back in championship form. Bethany Hamilton is an example of what happens when encouraging words and thoughtful prayer converge. Bethany and her family were always aligned with God’s priorities, so moving beyond and moving on was not an option but a mandate. God has expanded her territory and her testimony continues to motivate millions to move beyond their calamity.
We all know stories of major overcoming and we are inspired to overcome every day. My challenge to all of us is to deepen our connection to God and to remain available to God to fight. Groupthink is not a viable option and we cannot allow our distasteful experiences to limit our willingness to fight. Edmund Burke said long ago that “all that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.” If the Lord calls us to “have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. (And then) on the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. (Then) when you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in (Joshua 6:4-5),” we are to be obedient. If all looks bleak because an enemy that is seemingly more powerful than us is coming our way with fire in their eyes, we should seek the Lord’s guidance. And perhaps He will tell us: “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. . . . . You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you. . . . . Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them and the Lord will be with you (2 Chronicles 20:15-17).” We need to get busy and get beyond ourselves. If we are connected then we are assured that God will cause all things to work together for our good (Romans 8:28). We just have to keep it moving, to see what the end is going to be.