Saturday, November 16, 2013

Humor prevents Groupthink

Show me a group that can't laugh at itself, and I'll show you a group I want no part of. The ability to laugh at yourself, to be self-effacing, is a sure sign of humility. The ability to recognize the flaws, silly habits, and oddball behavior in yourself or your group keeps you grounded, and it can prevent you from making a huge mistake. It prevents groupthink.

Groupthink is dangerous. It is deadly. It kills. It is what happens when a group achieves too much harmony and there is no conflict. The individuals in the group lose their identity and become a collective consciousness. No one dares disagree with the group, nor can they even see why they'd need to. Bad ideas seem like good ideas because everyone agrees.

Years ago I was a student at Texas A&M University, a fine institution I am proud I attended. However, the year before I enrolled, they suffered one of the most horrific tragedies they've ever faced: The Bonfire collapse. Twelve people were killed, many more were injured. Since 1999, there has never been an official Bonfire at Texas A&M, though the tradition still continues off-campus.

While the Special Commission Report pointed to the structural failures, the biggest cause, according to the report, was groupthink. No one saw a problem with students building a giant structure, the size of a four story building, without any faculty oversight. No one thought to make the students submit all their plans to the engineering or architecture department. No one thought to take every precaution to ensure that such a disaster didn't happen.

This is the insidious nature of groupthink. Everyone gets into this hive-mind mentality and no one questions where the group is going. Bad ideas become good ideas because no one is disagreeing. In fact, everyone agrees, and any dissenting voices are beaten down, ignored, or cast out of the group. It's only when disaster happens that everyone has that moment of clarity, wakes up from the groupthink-induced haze, and asks themselves "What were we thinking?"

Could humor have prevented the Bonfire tragedy? Not directly. Making jokes at Bonfire's expense would only have hardened everyone's resolve. No, humor works by creating an atmosphere that is open to critical analysis. If you are willing to joke about what's most important to you, then you don't take it so seriously that you reject the idea that you might be wrong. Humor offers truth, often the sharpest truth, and those open to it can see the world differently.

Being willing to joke about the dangers of Bonfire might have led some people to take a hard look at the risks they were taking with the lives of students. Not taking the tradition so seriously, not making it a Holy Rite -which it was, make no mistake- could have led to discussions about making Bonfire safer, more structurally sound, and not so tied to tradition that it ignored good sense. Those who can't joke about their projects are going to be blind to its flaws.

One of the factors of groupthink is that it rejects any critical analysis of the group or its actions. To question the group, their plans, their actions, is to work against the group. It is to make yourself an enemy of the group. Too many churches and Christian groups fall into this habit. They have an idea and refuse to listen to any contrary voices. In fact, the more critical the outside voices, they declare that all these outside voices are Satan's work, because anyone who questions them questions God. You can see where that can lead to trouble.

Just recently, LifeWay Christian Ministry apologized for some racist Vacation Bible School material. I don't believe for a second that LifeWay was intentionally racist. I commend them for taking this step. However, I would argue that the fact this happened in the first place was due to groupthink. Everyone thought "Far Out Rickshaw Rally – Racing Towards the Son" was a good idea, and no one suggested that this was a very insensitive idea. 

Could humor have prevented this from happening? Again, it's not humor itself, but the attitude that allows it: self-effacing humility. Not every ministry and evangelism idea is a good one. The ends do not always justify the means, as the means can undermine the ends. Having a sense of humor about your evangelism efforts does not mean you don't take it seriously. The opposite is true, it means you take it so seriously that you look at it from every angle to make sure you aren't becoming a stumbling block. (Particularly when it comes to relating to other cultures.)

I am about to make a self-serving statement. I just want you to know that I am fully aware that what I write next is all about me. I have a giant ego, something God speaks to me about quite often. (And it's a testament to God's Grace and Mercy that I haven't been smote.) So here comes my self-aggrandizing statement, but also an apologia if you will.

I've been writing Christian scripts for over 15 years, some serious, many more comical. And if there's one common thread in many of them, it's that I adore roasting the sacred cows of Christendom. (Yes, I just mixed religious metaphors, but there's no better analogy than Sacred Cow. It's just too perfect.) My goal, when I write things like How to Evangelize People, Crazy Christians and Large Frozen Fish, or the rest of my catalog, is not to mock Christianity, not really. It's to make sure we stay on the right path.

Of course, I am aware that I need just as much help as anyone else. (If you've read my blog, you know this quite well.) That's why I'm a huge fan of the website Stuff Christians Like. It's a perfect antidote for Christian groupthink, and believers who take themselves way too seriously. It's a way to critically analyze our faith through humor and humility while not forgetting the core of the Gospel: God loves us, let's try to love others.

So I will continue to use humor to take the stuffing out of overly stuffy Christians. Just as I hope others do the same to me when I need it. (I almost wrote "if," but I know myself too well.) If we all can realize that we aren't perfect, that we are ridiculous human beings that God loves despite ourselves, then there's hope for us yet.

More Christian Geek Articles

No comments:

Post a Comment