Disciplemaking and the Problem of Transparency, pt 2: Obstacles

This excursus, “Disciplemaking and the Problem of Transparency,” is the fourth part of my series, “Programming for Discipleship.”  This is the second post in the excursus, which I expect to take four posts.

In part 1, I talked about the necessity of transparency for disciplemaking.

  • Deep, character-level personal change happens best in very small (3-5 participants), accountable, transparent groups of believers.
  • All members of these groups should be honest and vulnerable with the other members, holding the others accountable for actions and attitudes and disciplines without condemning, and willing to allow the others to hold THEM accountable.

Transparency is necessary, but it’s difficult.  In the first post, I mentioned pride and our capacity for self-deception; these are two major obstacles.

Another obstacle is personality.  Some people are by nature more reticent, more reserved.  Is that environment or just the way they are inclined?  Probably a combination of both.

There are other obstacles that stand in the way of healing, that seem to me to be as much cultural as anything else.  What are these obstacles?  To what degree are they culture-based rather than personality-based?  (Again, I’m not saying personality doesn’t play a role, but culture can clearly be a factor.)

1.”Overvaluing” (?) reputation.  Sometimes, such extreme emphasis is put on reputation that people will go to any length to maintain appearances, even if the internal realities (personal integrity and character, having a healthy marriage, etc.) do not match the facade.

An example would be a desperately unhappy marriage where the partners are unable to seek help because their community would never allow them to admit they are unhappy.

Honor/shame cultures seem to me to go in this category (but I don’t think such phenomena are limited to them.)  In such cultures, a person’s value is in the honor they have been able to accrue.  When a person “fails”–a bankruptcy, a divorce, a catastrophic mistake–there is usually no redemption, because that person loses his/her honor.

In these settings, failure is not something that happens to you or something you do.  Failure is something you ARE, or BECOME. (That’s very close to the definition of shame, by the way.)

Further, the failure need not have been that person’s own actions.  A family member who acts dishonorably destroys not only their own honor, they also cost their family members their honor.

So, to pose a common scenario: a child grows up with an abusive parent, or is molested by a family member.  How can that child seek help, counseling or therapy, when confessing to someone what has happened to him/her will cost him honor?  When you confess that a family member has done something shameful, in these settings you bring shame on everyone to whom that family member is linked.

The fear of losing honor or jeopardizing reputation is a powerful obstacle to eliciting transparency.

2.Feeling that secrets are unsafe.  Some cultures are built on paranoia, and some governments intentionally break down peoples’ sense of privacy and security.  For example, in the recent past, communist and other authoritarian governments urged citizens to report their neighbors if they suspected them of having “incorrect” thoughts or acting in inappropriate ways.  Such a culture makes people deeply afraid of expressing things that are forbidden, politically incorrect, etc.

(We are seeing a similar phenomenon in the modern social justice movement, where a single clumsily-worded tweet or inappropriate public statement can provoke witch hunts and ruin a person’s reputation, cost people their jobs and friendships, etc.)

In places where secrets have been betrayed and shared out of school, it can be extremely difficult to rebuild confidence and transparency.

3.The belief that leaders must always be strong.  In some cultures, the dominant type of leadership is domineering, iron-fisted, and tyrannical.  This often leads to very darwinian organizations, where leaders jealously guard authority and anyone who shows initiative or dares to ask questions about the leader’s decisions is a threat that must be quashed.

This type of leadership is prevalent in many cultures, but seems to me to be especially prevalent in honor/shame cultures.  (Again, please correct me if I’m wrong.)

To oversimplify: in these cultures, a leader’s value as a human being rests in the honor he has accrued by his position.

(I think: in these settings, the important thing is NOT the gains [the accomplishments or the wealth that the leader has piled up through success], it’s the honor.  And the gains and the honor CAN operate independently.  The leader can lose the honor without losing the gains, and losing the honor equals being a failure, regardless of how much wealth etc. remains.)

Again: in that position and context, failure is not something you DO, failure is something you ARE.  So anything that threatens the leader’s authority is an existential threat.  If you fail and lose honor, there are no second acts.

4.The inability (?) or unwillingness (?) to publicly express or articulate things that are deeply felt.  This is a strange phenomenon, and it may just be a facet of personality.  But I have seen this in Croatia.

I heard the story of someone who was deeply blessed by a particular ministry; the description I heard was that this person’s life was completely changed.

But the person who experienced this change refused to tell anyone other than their closest, closest friends about the good thing that had happened to them.  They refused to tell anyone in the ministry that had so blessed them.

Why?  Did they think that talking about their good fortune might endanger it?  Were they afraid that it might be seen as bragging or hubris, and thus tempt fate?  Or were they afraid that, if they talked about it, they would not be able to maintain their stoicism?

(How do people in an honor/shame culture handle being deeply, truly blessed?)


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