Pride & Prejudice vs. Braveheart
I'm so encouraged by all of the people who have already started reading Disunity in Christ! (The reviews are coming in!) Today I'm excited to share another excerpt with you -- taken from chapter 5 which is titled “Running for Cover: How The Groups We Form Protect Our Identity and Self-Esteem.” Enjoy! Why do men tend to watch Braveheart over and over again in all-male groups while women tend to watch Pride and Prejudice again and again in all-female groups? Why don’t we watch these movies in mixed company? Because we want to watch with people who generally share our values, will affirm our likes and dislikes, and will grunt/swoon at the appropriate times in the movie. Few women want to watch Pride and Prejudice with a group of men who think that the movie is boring and that Mr. Darcy is anything less than perfect. Likewise, few men want to watch Braveheart with a group of women who don’t get inspired by that stupid speech that Mel Gibson/William Wallace gives right before they all die. And so it goes.
We tend to stick with people who like what we like—those who talk, eat, interact, believe and perceive the world like us. John Stott intuitively stated that, “The people we immediately, instinctively like, and find it easy to get on with are the people who give us the respect we consider we deserve. . . . In other words, personal vanity is a key factor in all our relationships.”
A more cognitive explanation for our desire to form allegiances with similar others is found in Fritz Heider’s balance theory. According to this theory, humans are motivated to maintain cognitive “balance” within relationships with others. In other words, we are comfortable when we agree with others on important issues, and we experience a palpable cognitive discomfort when we don’t agree. As such, we tend to pursue and maintain relationships with people with whom we can agree—with whom we have achieved “balance.”
Heider developed a balance triangle to illustrate his theory:Within the context of crosscultural situations in the body of Christ, our need for affirmation creates a greater desire to surround ourselves with those who subscribe to our culturally distinct ways of life and an aversion to those whose mere difference threatens our unstable identities. We want to be affirmed. So we intentionally seek out the best people from whom to receive affirmation: those who share our values and priorities.
Our self-image and identity are at stake here. Groups that affirm who we are can help us to defend the assaults we are already dealing with. In this sense, groups can serve as havens for our afflicted selves, and for a few fleeting moments, we feel better about ourselves.
If your current group is not patting you on the back enough and making you feel good about yourself, you still have an option. You can [sometimes] simply leave the group and try to gain membership in a better one. Since group membership largely informs self-esteem, it makes sense that humans are motivated to join groups that meet their self-esteem needs. This often means joining a high-status group. Robert Cialdini has conducted research that shows that people “bask in reflected glory” (BIRG) by associating with high-status people.
In one study, Cialdini found that individuals felt better about themselves if they knew that a stranger who was superficially connected to them (such as with a shared birth date) had performed well on an intelligence test. By simply associating with a high-status person or group, people felt better about themselves, even when the reason for the association was quite trivial. (This helps to explain why, when people ask me how to spell my last name, I smugly offer, “Cleveland, like the president.”)
In another study, Cialdini and his colleagues wanted to see if BIRGing extends to group memberships. They decided to test whether college students were more likely to associate with their respective school when it had recently experienced success—in other words, when it was riding a wave of high status. During football season one year, the researchers monitored students on the Mondays after football games on the campuses of Arizona State University, Purdue University, Notre Dame University and Ohio State University and recorded whether students were wearing clothes with their school’s name on it. They found that students wore more school-identifying clothing after a team victory than after a team defeat! They also found that students were more likely to say, “We won!” when their school’s team had been successful and “They lost!” when their school’s team had been unsuccessful. So people BIRG by associating with winners.
There’s an overwhelming amount of BIRGing going on in the body of Christ. In our own quests for significance, we often identify with the Christians who are valued in our communities. We tend to gravitate toward churches that “look good”—from presentation to population to property—because to be associated with an organization that is successful and attractive makes us look like we are successful and attractive. Only hipsters attend the hip church. Therefore if I attend, I must be hip. Only intellectuals attend the intellectual church. Therefore if I attend, I must be intellectual. Only true reconcilers attend the multiethnic church. Therefore if I attend, I must be a true reconciler. Years after high school graduation, we’re still looking for significance.
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