Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Community Pressure

About ten days ago I spent some time at our Local Preachers Association District Convention. I am glad to do this as an attempt to encourage racial mixing in the affairs of the Local Preachers. What struck me from some incidents at the Convention was the power of community over people - particularly in the African tradition. And as the reverse, my (I'm white!) enormous need for independence and 'don't tell me what to do'. At one point there was some very slight friction between our circuit representatives and the district reps. My reaction was - not seriously - let's go make our own association, we don't need to be here. This horrified one lady who said 'no - we need to be with the community, it is not good to go out and be on your own' or words to that effect. Now, what she says is good and true. But in my mind not good and true when the community is telling people to spend money they do not have and is in general putting a large amount of pressure to do things that do not make sense to me. Now the people will do these things. They will pay money - even if they don't know what it is used for. They will wear different clothes because they are told to, even if they must go buy them on domestic worker wages. And if anyone objects, they are virtually pariah's.
I see this and I begin to understand Zimbabwe. The community rules. If you separate or say something different, the question is not 'does this make sense?' The question is 'is this from the community leaders?' And so the community says 'vote Zanu-PF' and they don't question they follow. Because to separate from the communty is unthinkable.
From a western - I suppose this is existentialist - point of view, it is unthinkable to follow the crowd like a sheep. We are all responsible for ourselves and our communities. If I follow a course of action that I believe will damage the community, I am guilty of that damage if it happens.
I can reconcile many things in my mind, accept many different points of view, compromise in many ways, but I really struggle with this disparity. I cannot just follow where I believe danger lies. I cannot follow a leader that I do not trust and believe credible - although I will suspend my own judgement when I am convinced of the fitness of my own leaders.
This is not easy and runs very deep in most of us.


David Barbour said...

The community in Africa is a very strong determining factor in decision making. At the same time if we consider the ANC - factions emerge, people speak out and the community is split down the middle. The problem then is can these two new communities respect the difference and not fight it. It is easier for an individual to say I agree to disagree than a group maybe?

Rock in the Grass (Pete Grassow) said...

The converse is just as dangerous: individuals who owe no alliegance to the community. Individuals who do not care about anyone else - who live according to every selfish desire with no thought for community needs. epitomised by the nike slogan of "just do it" ; often with no regard to how others feel it.

Of course we need somehow to strike a truce between the two ends, and reconcile our need to think for ourselves, and our need to work for the good of the community. I do not find this easy because I tend to be one who swims as I see fit - no Not easy to live in community and have capacity for free thought.