“He who walks with wise men becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Proverbs 13:20)
So, it used to be that people had a group of friends from Church because they had things in common: their faith, their values, their heritage. You could count on your church crew to keep you in check when you felt like you were doing something, or at least, tempted to do, something wrong. In fact, often when someone was doing something “wrong”, that person tended to be evasive of the church group – or the church itself – in order to avoid being confronted with opposition. This is not because the person was necessarily afraid the people would say things, but more because he knew that he was not walking the same road as those friends or that he was deviating from what was taught in that building.
Today, though, a different trend is emerging. Increasingly, these groups do everything ‘right’ together…and everything wrong. As the wise Solomon wrote:
“The righteous choose their friends carefully, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.” (Proverbs 12:26)
So, hear me out. This is often how it goes:
a) Someone falls
So, some trend begins. Most people in the group stand unified initially against ‘it’. Shisha, weed, cigs. Whatever. ‘it’ is. It’s not an issue to the group, the group knows where it stands on ‘it’. Everyone solidly standing together brings strength to each individual. When everyone has the same stance, things are somehow much easier. There are no disagreements apparent.
Then comes the day where one person tries ‘it’. Someone offered ‘it’ to him. The person was in a compromising situation and felt pressured. The person saw that others looked happy while doing ‘it’. The person heard that ‘it’ was really not so bad or as harmful as everyone says. The person was told that ‘you only live once’ and that even if he chooses not to have ‘it’ again he needs to have tried ‘it’ at least once. Person tries ‘it’. Person likes ‘it’. Man down.
Sometimes it’s a couple of people who try ‘it’. Men down.
This is the hard part. The group finds out that someone is doing something. Members start talking to one another, trying to get a sense of where everyone else stands on ‘it’. Things were easier when everyone was on the same page, but when their norm is shaken, people are not sure where they stand anymore. So things can go in various ways:
i) In some groups there are one ore more individuals who stand solidly with their convictions and say, ‘no, this is for sure wrong’. Sometimes, these strong individuals are loud and firm, and they carry some sway. Their rejection of the ‘it’ (not the person) is enough to keep people on track. The group is unaffected though worried about the individual who does ‘it’. Sometimes the individual who tried ‘it’ is intimidated by this, and decided he does not want to be part of the group. He might claim that he feels judged, he might feel that he simply does not have the same values, but for whichever of those reasons, he decides to leave the group.
ii) In other groups, the sense of rightness and wrongness is not as strong. The thing that was keeping them doing the right thing was simply because that’s what everyone was doing. They assumed what they were doing was right, simply because that’s how things had been. In these cases, when someone does ‘it’, individual members of the group are silent, because they are not actually sure where they stand on ‘it’, personally. These people are not sure that ‘it’ is actually wrong, and consequently, knowing that a member of the group is doing ‘it’, their curiosity is aroused, and they find that they themselves are interested in knowing what ‘it’ was like. If the group is not solid, individuals might start trying ‘it’ themselves outside of the group, because they are scared of bringing it up with the group, since they don’t know how everyone else will react. Everyone’s just ‘kinda doin’ their own thing’ and not talking about it when they’re together. Sometimes these groups just fall apart with each going to a group that lets him do what he wants, other times they just meet up less and when they do, avoid such issues or discussions. In this case, the group didn’t have anything to rally around, so it fell apart. There was no leader – for better or worse – in this group.
iii) In still other groups, there’s someone in the crew who feels emboldened and enlightened, and defends the person who has done ‘it’. Here, the charismatic leader is not one who agrees that ‘it’ was wrong, but someone who says one of two things: ‘it’ is not wrong or even if ‘it’ was wrong, we are ‘not going to judge’, and ‘it’s so-and-so’s own business what he does’. This leader encourages everyone to keep their opinions to themselves and allow them to do as they please, because, after-all, it’s a free country, and it’s not for any of us to tell one another who is right and who is wrong. Often, when such a leader exists, there are one or two people in the group who still believe that ‘it’ is wrong, but suddenly, they find that they are in an environment where they are encouraged to just shut up about it.
Let’s talk more about this one.
This latter one is often what leads to when —>
c) The Group falls
The group no longer has a full commonality when this happens. Members who are in tune to what is going on start having to ask difficult questions of themselves:
– Are we a group only because we go to the same church?
– Do our value match anymore and does that matter?
– Is there an actual right and wrong to this and do I care to find out?
– Is my job to just support everyone? If so, well, what if I disagree with what the person is doing?
– Is the purpose of the group just to kill time and not worry about the things in which we disagree?
– Should I say something? but…
I don’t want to be that guy.
That’s the most common thing said to me by people who find themselves in this situation, or in any situation where a person is confronted with others doing something different that oneself. The person does not want to be the one who disagrees. He doesn’t want to be the buzzkill: the dude who says it ain’t aight by me to do that. Well,
Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” (Proverbs 27:5-6)
The problem is, when nobody is ‘that guy’. That group either falls apart, or ends up doing everything wrong together. Suddenly ‘it’ isn’t an exception, ‘it’ is something everyone in the group can do because there’s no ‘fear of judgment’. Suddenly the person not doing it is seen as a prude if he verbalises or simply shows any kind of disapproval to the action of ‘it’. Suddenly that person who disagrees is seen as the foreigner in the group, the self-righteous hypocrite. Yes, often that person will have the rest of the group single him out for whatever errors he makes. They will remind him of all his errors to tell him that he has ‘no right to judge’.
This has become too common.
So, the group is mad at the person who disagrees. They want him to respect the opinion of others, and yet his opinion is not respected because it disagrees with the rest. Oh, the hypocrisy. It is okay for them to reject his ‘opinion’ but apparently he is not allowed to disagree with theirs. They can say that he is wrong in his belief but he is not permitted to feel the same about theirs. Calling an action wrong is somehow perceived as calling a person ‘bad’. Discerning that an action is wrong is somehow mistaken for judging the individual doing the action. This is superficial nonsense. I hope at this point that the question is raised of: what is this dude still doing with this group?
But here’s the problem:
Many people don’t seem to care anymore. Finding that group that still believes that ‘it’ is wrong, is becoming harder. People are trying to justify wrongs because they simply want it. Those who oppose this are branded terribly. What makes it harder, is that the Church group was supposed to be people who banded together because they had common values and morals, and because they believe that these things are not relative. Because nobody wants to be ‘that guy’, everyone is everyone else.
The reality is that when nobody is “that guy”, then the discussions never happen, the truth doesn’t prevail, and groups bring each other down instead of up. Those opposed begin to feel ‘weird’ in a group with which they were supposed to feel at ease. Because then the question truly becomes, well, what is the point of having friends from the Church? At this point there is no difference between that ‘church’ group and any secular friends (with whom I don’t have common values). What is the common link that ties the whole group together? What is friendship?
Yes, these are the questions that must be asked and the individual must confront himself with: what is the point of my friendship? what is it that ties us together? Then, “is that reason or thing still true or valid?” and then “Is this good for me and who I want to be?”
Does this friendship fulfill its purpose? Am I ready to make the decisions that reflect the answer to that question?
When you finally realise who you are supposed to be and determine whether you want to be him or not, then I pray that you have the fortitude to be ‘that guy’. People in the world didn’t want to ‘be that guy’ when millions of Rwandans were massacred. People didn’t want to be ‘that guy’ for years as Hitler rose to power proclaiming boldly his agenda. People didn’t want to be ‘that guy’ when people bullied others literally to death. Those that were willing to be ‘that guy’, well, they are now the heroes. We have to be that guy from the ground up, from the small things that we know cause big things. When we are selective about identifying wrongs, you remove the ruler, the compass, the standard that directs you. Your fear of being that guy may have injured or killed other guys, and possibly yourself.
Do what’s right because it is right, ‘be that guy’. In fact, if each in the group would be that guy, you will see fulfillment of:
“And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12)