Editor’s Note: The following article was submitted by guest author Dave Hernandez.
I’m not totally unaware of the ideas around scapegoating; I’m conscious of the Old Testament references. But I’ve only recently taken a deeper plunge into trying to understand the practise of scapegoating in social behaviour.
Although this post is a slight deviation from my previous posts, I’d like to write down a few of my observations on this subject; remarks that have helped me understand reoccurring events in my life. Understanding this has proved helpful and even healing to me. I’ll need a few posts to cover them all.
I’ve always felt a deep need to belong. I know now that we all do. It’s a primal need of the soul. Community offers protection, provision as well as purpose. I found ‘belonging’ within a church community. And so I conformed to my environment. It didn’t matter what the community ‘believed’, I adhered to their beliefs and values because I needed to belong. Beliefs and values are always developed into invisible walls of protection for the community. I agreed in order to belong and I felt secure within the walls; with these people.
I became a preacher and leader. That gave me a greater sense of belonging, significance and purpose amidst the community. There was only one problem. I did everything solely to satisfy my deep need to belong. I would seek approval. And I learnt to reinforce the belief system by exercising my position as a teacher. I became an expert in the community. I was well accepted; I was needed; I had a purpose; I belonged!
The culture we had put in place was so powerful that anybody who couldn’t conform (there were many) was quickly rejected. They didn’t find belonging among us. It was usually a quick process because the outsider just couldn’t fit in.
Eventually, though, I started questioning things: matters that went to the core of the community’s belief system. I didn’t understand that I was innocently threatening the arrangement that made the community feel safe. I had no idea. I realised, through a very destructive process, that the system that protects the community is more important than the people that make the community: relationships will be sacrificed if they threaten the system. That was my first experience in the role of the scapegoat.
Then I sought to belong somewhere else. And the cycle started over again.
The problem with me is that I’m born to be a scapegoat. And now that I know this I feel quite relieved. I’ve even found greater purpose in understanding this than I did when I tried my hardest to find purpose in belonging to a community. That might sound strange but it’s true. It’s not that I don’t need community because I do; it’s more that I understand how things work and the potential for misunderstanding.
You see, some people have been given the gift to stir the quiet waters of community when something within that ‘peaceful’ environment is not quite right. It doesn’t matter what it is but there’s always someone among the common folk that begins to create a storm. It’s rarely the person at the top and his closest lieutenants. They see themselves as the protectors of the system. So it’s usually within the ranks. Someone will quietly begin to ask questions, show dissatisfaction or become a little too curious about what’s happening on the outside. I’ve found that in most closed circles leaders are ruthless in “protecting the community from division”. They deal with the source of ‘division’ swiftly! Another scapegoat is sacrificed. In a ‘self-aware’ community, however, the people and leaders will see the ‘storm’ as an opportunity to engage, communicate and grow. I know that such communities exist; they’re quite rare.
I’m a teacher. I’m called to grow people; not protect a system. I understand that now. As such I’m an ‘agent provocateur’ of sorts. I push the boundaries. I’m called to move communities forward; to help them grow. In that capacity, I am vulnerable to becoming a scapegoat. I understand that now, so I am better equipped to be everything I am called to be while protecting myself from the hurts scapegoats are vulnerable to endure.
I seek to relate to different communities with clear intentions.
I grow my circle of friendships intentionally. These guys are my friends and our purpose is to enjoy each other’s company. My role is to be simply a friend – not to provoke them with my latest thoughts and ideas; not to exasperate them with my theories and rantings. I must exercise restraint. I cannot use this community as a platform to fulfil my needs to push people forward.
As a pastoral teacher, I relate to a different community with a given task to shepherd the people. It’s in these communities that I went wrong. I can’t provoke these people; I’m only called to lead them to a place of healing and health. Again, self-restraint is needed.
Then there are people in my life that keep watch over me. I am open and vulnerable to them; they can correct me because I trust them. We often share thoughts and ideas too. They play an important part in my growth because they create a space of freedom and protection for me to grow. They help me see where I can go wrong while protecting the relationship. I show self-restraint here because I’ve positioned myself to learn from and with them.
Finally, there are people in my life, community, even communities that allow me to let out the steam. These guys welcome my ideas and provocations. I feel totally free to push the boundaries because I have permission.
I have found my purpose. I know that I am called to push boundaries. I also know that my best friend is self-restraint and a clear understanding of the roles I fill in the various communities of my life.
I recognise that sometimes the only way a community can move forward in leaps and bounds is when a forward-thinking provocateur is scapegoated! I prefer not to be the scapegoat. Jesus, however, was aware of his role and was crucified as the perfect scapegoat. But that subject will need to be looked at in another post!
Dave Hernandez is an author, speaker and blogger. He has been a student, preacher and teacher of the Bible for 30 years. Dave is married to Laurence and has two sons. He is a lover of all cultural expressions.
Editor’s Note: Would you like to submit an article for consideration to The Raven Foundation? Find out how in the guidelines of our new section, “Your Voice.” Articles published do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the staff at the Raven Foundation, but are selected primarily because of the way they enhance the conversation around mimetic theory.