Groups and Group Affiliation
By Larry Fine
What group do you belong to?
It seems that every one seems to have some group identity, meaning that they have allegiance to some group. Belonging to a group can confer benefits on the member, but there is also a danger that must be highlighted.
Before we begin, let us understand what we mean by a 'group':
A group generally has three things: a leader, a philosophy and the people. There are groups within groups or sub-groups.
A group can be a political entity like the Republicans or Democrats, Liberals or Conservatives. A group can be a semi-political entity like Peace Now or Lobby interests. It can be a national group like a country, America, Israel, France etc. There are sports groups in baseball, in football, soccer, etc. A group can be comprised of ethnic backgrounds, Jews, Hungarians, Armenians, or Huns. A group can be composed of people based on religious preferences such as Jews, Baptists, Muslims. In the religious grouping there are sub-groups such as Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, etc.
Each group has its philosophy to which the adherents of that group are supposed to accept. A communist must accept the concept of communism but there are differences within the communist groups exactly which communism is the correct one, the Bolsheviks, the Leninists, or Maoists. Similarly in political parties, all believe in certain tenets of their party, but disagree on others. Republicans agree (perhaps) on the economic direction that America should follow but disagree on other issues such as abortion.
Leaders also attract and/or repel membership. It is the leaders who give direction to the group by emphasizing certain aspects of the philosophy and playing down other aspects. Often it is their personality and charisma that brings members in and builds up the group.
The group is composed of the people. Not every one holds by each tenet of the group. People are not uniform; each person is an individual who follows the dictums of the group; some to more of an extent, others to a lesser degree. But even in small groups there are never instances of people who can agree on all the principles of the group. Even in groups where people do agree on the tenets, very often there are people within the groups that dislike or even hate each other members of the same group. Group membership does not necessarily guarantee friendship and support.
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The problem with groups is that we have a strong tendency to judge everyone in the group as if they are the same. All (supply a minority group here) are lazy. People from (supply a minority group here) are thieves. It is easy to fall into the trap of simplified thinking by boxing everyone in a group as having the same characteristics. It may be certain that all doctors have stethoscopes, but perhaps there are those who do not. Perhaps all lawyers may appear from the outside to be crooks, but if you really check them out, you will see one or two who are not.
In our lives we have learnt to simplify thinking by using group labels when we relate to a group. We think all Arabs hate Jews but yet we find many cases of Arabs who live together peacefully with Jews. Our major problem seems to happen when we believe that all members of a group are alike and that is something that is never the case.
We have the same problem, perhaps to a greater extent within the confines of Judaism. Within Jewry there are more groups and sub groups than we can list. There really is no problem in the multitude of groups; the problem is that one group or leader points out the deficiency in a member of another group as a means to justify his personal approach and condemn the entire other opposing group.
This type of radical hate-mongering has been happening for a long time and it is time for us to stand up and demand that the leaders stop it. It does not matter if there is an Ultra-Orthodox man who does such and such (which is really terrible) or a reform rabbi does something else just as bad; there is no need to blame the entire group for one person's sin. Yet we find that the newspapers seem to encourage just such articles since emotional opinions seem to attract people, and people bring the money to the newspapers and that is exactly what it is all about!
Each generation has its trials and temptations that the previous generation did not have. Our generation seems to be suffering from an overdose of "the other-group bashing". There is no lasting benefit that can be gotten from this type of rhetoric; it gives a short lived advantage that eventually will not solve any problems.
We, the people, must demand from our leaders the integrity and intellectual honesty that will bring a true benefit not just to the group, but to the total and not just a partial solution based on reaction to a isolated idiot from 'the other group'. We must act affirmatively to condemn leaders who use reactionary rhetoric in their speeches. Leaders should draw us together; not bring more separation. Unity with diversity will enable all to be true to themselves, true to G-d and to the group.
from the January 2012 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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