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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Group "norms" or your "norms"?

Who do you "hang out" with?  You probably have a pretty "routine" group of acquaintances who you associate with more than others.  Sometimes, we have groups at work or school, others at home and at church.  They can overlap a little, but seldom are they all the same.  When we have all these groups in which we associate, it is easier to be one with one group and quite another with the other, isn't it?  There is not a great deal of consistency between the members of the groups, so being a little different with each group usually doesn't present a problem.  Until....one day, you find a member of one of your "groups" crossing-over into another!  Perhaps you find yourself a little conflicted because you "act" one way with the present group, but quite a different way with the other.  The truth about associations is the tendency we have to "blend" to their way of acting.  We become like those we hang out with, don't we?  Yeah, we hold onto some of the uniqueness of who we are, but we have a tendency to adapt to the "norms" of the group we are in.

Don’t hang out with angry people; don’t keep company with hotheads.  Bad temper is contagious—don’t get infected.  (Proverbs 22:24-25 MSG)

The "group norms" are the unwritten, often unspoken, "rules" which govern our behavior while in the group.  It is the "norms" which help us to understand how to act.  For example, if you come into a boardroom of well-dressed business men and women, wearing blue jeans and a polo, you might feel a little "out of place".  The norms of the group dictate a different attire as appropriate for the boardroom setting.  There are no written rules, but there is an understood rule of "presentation" of a professional image.  If the norms of the group allow for a free-for-all kind of work environment, such as a creative business such as an art studio, a man in a business suit would feel just as "out of place".  

I think Solomon might have understood "group norms" a little way back in the time he recorded these words to his sons.  He understood the idea of "conforming" to the group values.  If the group values are good, this is not so much of a problem, but if they represent something less, we might find ourselves getting wrapped up in behavior we'd be best to avoid.  "Keeping company" with anyone who sways us away from upright behavior is always risky business.  If our values "morph" to the values of the group we are in, isn't it important to understand the values pretty early on?  

Look at what he says:  "Don't HANG OUT with angry people; don't KEEP COMPANY with hotheads."  Here are two very important distinctions - hanging out and keeping company.  Hanging out is really the casual kind of companion interaction - friends just being together without any real purpose or intent.  Keeping company is more of a consistent kind of attention to the relationship, so as to associate with or consort with them.  

Now, look at these in context.  If we "hang out" with angry people - having no real purpose or intent in our relationships - we might find it very easy to have our norms morphed a little by those we are "hanging out" with, huh?  But, Solomon goes on to remind us it is equally as dangerous to form lasting relationships with these individuals (keeping company) - there is a tendency to partner with (come into agreement with) those we associate with long enough.  Whereas "hanging out" is casual and without any great intention, "keeping company" declares some type of commitment.

So, in context, Solomon warns us against both the casual association with those who have an issue with anger and the committed relationship with one who had issues with being impetuous and short-fused.  Anger is a long-term problem - temper is short-lived, but equally as devastating to the one on the receiving end!  When we "hang with" or "commit to" others who display these tendencies, we both place ourselves in their direct path, AND we have exposed ourselves to the tendency to "morph" our actions to theirs.  

The angry have made their violent rage a lifestyle.  The hothead is probably more dangerous because you never know what will "trigger" the next outburst!  Either way, we are to be very cautious about entering into relationship with these individuals.  Both can lead us down paths we'd probably never want to travel!  The "rub" comes in being "affected" or "infected" by their actions.  There are a whole group of "sins" which affect the one doing the sinning - there are others which affect others, as well.  Anger and hotheadedness are two of the ones which are never content unless others are caught up in their "fray".  

So, it really does matter who we associate with, both in the casual sense, such as at the lunch table at work, and in the more permanent sense, such as a life-long companion.  To be unaware of the damage of their anger or hotheadedness is to be naive.  To this end, Solomon warns his sons (and us) to avoid their company - to not purposefully place ourselves in a position to be affected by their "norms".  Just sayin!