We’ve all been there before. You join a new group or organization, like a new job or a new group of friends, and after a certain amount of time you start to notice some things that aren’t quite right. Some people choose not to rock the boat, but others make their concerns known. Depending on the nature of the group the concern could be heard and resolved, or group members could deny that there’s a problem and even express frustrations that the concerns were mentioned. If the group denies there’s a problem some people will choose not to voice their concerns in the future, but still others will begin to voice their concerns even louder. This group of people often receives the label “pot stirrers.”
To be fair this group of people usually has some recognizable personality traits that make people suspicious of their motives, but by and large they truly want to help the group be better. [Full Disclosure: I have frequently been labeled a pot stirrer.] In light of my own experience of making observations, expressing concerns, and being rejected, I have developed a deep sympathy for those who share the label, and I have noticed a pattern of rejection that I refer to as a “descent into chaos.” This descent often leads to a lonely exile for the whistle-blower, and a maintenance of the status quo for the group.
The pattern goes something like this, someone raises a concern about the way a group functions and the other members deny that there is a problem, and they often suggest that the problem is really with the person raising the concern. If the person bringing attention to the problem continues raising their concerns they will often be forced to leave the group, and once the person is gone members of the group will begin to talk more freely about their feelings towards the exiled individual, feelings like “what was wrong with that guy” or “man he sure was crazy!” The person being rejected, on the other hand, often seeks out another group and chooses not to voice their concerns, so that they can experience the benefits of group membership.
But there’s an even smaller group of people who just seem to have a really hard time learning their lesson and they repeat the process in the next group, and what can happen over time is that as they experience a series of painful rejections or one traumatic rejection they can begin to isolate themselves and avoid group interactions. The writer and journalist Johann Hari has a fascinating book titled Lost Connections where he describes the complex relationships between isolation, depression, addiction, and suicide. As this isolation continues, the individual’s behavior can become more erratic and eccentric, to the point that members of previous groups see this behavior and say things like, “what did we tell you, he was crazy all along.” All the time refusing to acknowledge that most of the erratic behavior has stemmed from the rejected individual experiencing long periods of isolation. This erratic behavior can also make it difficult for the individual to join new groups.
This pattern is part of what makes it so difficult for addicts to integrate themselves back into family and friend groups. There is a feeling of awkwardness around people who have rejected you or who you feel have rejected you in the past, and a comfort to be around others who have also been rejected. Often times this experience can only be overcome by an extended period of unconditional acceptance within a group of people who have overcome similar obstacles. I believe this process is at the heart of the gospel. God opens himself up to a self-imposed exile where he is rejected and killed by the world. His rejection and death led to a descent into chaos, into death itself, where he preaches the good news that God was rejected by humanity for humanity, and that God stands on the side of those who have been rejected. His love demonstrates to the world that faith in him has the power to redeem and restore every exile.