People generally act worse when in a group setting – in particular a larger group setting – than if you were to interact with them one-on-one. I know it is a somewhat broad assumption but as far as I can tell in both first hand observation, secondary observation, and my studying of group behavioral dynamics, it would seem that this observation / conclusion is not far off the mark. I guess ‘worse’ is subject to interpretation so perhaps a better description might be that their inhibitions have diminished, they feel bolder, and there is a tendency to amplify the lowest common denominator present in the group. When we look at gatherings for sporting events, concerts, large community events, or even smaller social gatherings like an office party, a friend’s party, or even shopping in a mall on a busy day, people generally begin to react in exaggerated ways, often poorly, in how they interact with people outside of their immediate group.
This phenomenon embraces the old adage, “If you are not for us, you are against us.” However, the time allotted to determine if “you are for us” is often quite short and when each person’s presuppositions (judgments, racist attitudes, sexist viewpoints) are mixed into the equation, there is really no time at all to decide if you are ‘for us’ or not – that decision was already made the moment you showed up to this group. Sometimes there is a preliminary screening that occurs, whether through a greeting at the door, a handshake that follows, the invitation to take some literature on who they are, along with an invitation to explain your presence there in the first place. All designed to inform the crowd as to whether ‘you are for us or against us’.
Yes, I am now talking about church.
It is impossible, it would seem, to enter a church on a Sunday morning, incognito, to find a place to sit and partake of the service, seeking some Holy interaction with God to bring joy and soothing to a troubled soul. Such space has been gobbled up by the several layers of pre-screening that occurs before you have finally made it to a seat that has either been set aside for those being currently assessed for enrollment or to a seat that otherwise had belonged to another and who is now sitting quite disgusted in another row, curiously staring at you throughout the service. On that note, it is as if I had inadvertently sat in the wrong designated seating at some concert where polite society would simply state, “excuse me sir, but you wanted row G on the left side of the auditorium, this is row G on the right side.” But in church, those rules of polite society are drowned by the larger dynamics of group behaviors, all designed to determine your potential. Consequently, I had now failed at least one ‘test’ while the displaced congregant sits uncomfortably across the way trying to remind themselves of what it means to embrace ‘Christian sacrifice’.
I say ‘lowest common denominator’ on purpose because I have found that for the most part, running into any one of these individuals outside of this group dynamic and I have a completely different interaction. There is potentially more equality present, more acceptance present, and the ability to have a meaningful conversation is fairly high, resulting in a somewhat positive interaction overall. Enough, perhaps to cast off what happened last Sunday and to go try to enter the sanctified doors one more time, only to be reminded that my theory on group behavior dynamics is correct.
It’s a shame, really, since I would love to drag my wounded, hurting, parched soul into a church in order to commune together with other believers, to worship together with other believers, to experience a joy and a peace for my soul with other believers. Instead, I seek out those places on my own – in the mornings before work, in my car on the way to work, and during the quiet times during the day in my office. Continually seeking, yet continually yearning that such a place existed – that there would be a place where a broken and battered soul could walk through the doors – without passing through a hallway of supposition, weighing carefully one’s presence to determine if limited acceptance would be granted or not.