Thursday, February 10, 2022

Ranting v Relating

I used to think that ideology governed behaviour, eg "everyone in that group, all think X, and all behave the same way". Later I came to understand that it's far more the case that individual personality governs behaviour. All 'groups' have a variety of individual personality types within. Not everyone complies with the 'head office' policy of the 'group' they are imagined to belong to. Each individual doesn't belong just to one group, but to dozens, scores, maybe hundreds. 

It tends to be the loud and controversial ones within a group who shape the wider perceptions of that group. Their loudness and controversy attracts further attention, which can become media coverage, and suddenly that entire group is framed by the behaviour of the adversarial few.

Social media is still a very new phenomenon as a human experience. Again, I have come to see that, even though groups and tribes appear to form online along ideological lines, it's the personality that governs the behaviour of the individual.

I have met people who are fairly adversarial online – but paradoxically very quiet, conflict-averse, almost introverted, offline. This reminds me of some preachers I knew when I was a boy, who were comfortable when ranting at their listeners from the distance of the pulpit – or, in the open air setting, occasionally haranguing strangers who were passing by – but who were terrible at a normal, relational, one-to-one conversation. Unable to explain, unwilling to listen. Inclined towards pronouncements and denouncements.

I've been lit on a few times online over the years (for pretty innocuous posts, which to my surprise riled others) by people from right across the spectrum – theologically from the traditional to the liberal, politically from the conservative to the progressive. Sitting back to reflect on those mild attacks, even though their ideologies were poles apart, their behaviour and personalities were all very similar. A bit superior, fairly authoritarian, certain of their rightness and happy to disrupt relationships.

My late mother always said 'tak folk as you fin them', ie treat everyone as an individual and respond to how they behave. Personality, and how you behave, is more important than ideology.


In the early 2000s I did some collaborative work with a huge design consultancy group in London. Over dinner one evening their MD told me that when they were recruiting into any senior executive staff position (which London was full of applicants for), the firm's main interest wasn't experience or talent – when they shortlisted down to the last few candidates what clinched the deal was psychometric testing. They needed to find out what sort of person they were potentially about to bring into the organisation. 

• Galatians 5 v 22-23: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law."