I’m currently re-reading a book that I read a year or so ago… “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking”* by Susan Cain. The title of today’s post was inspired by her use of the term near the end of chapter 3 When Collaboration Kills Creativity.
At the time the book was published, in 2012, Gregory Berns was a neuroscientist at Emory University, in Atlanta Georgia. He was doing research wherein volunteers played a game while in an fMRI machine. They were shown, on a computer screen, two 3-dimensional objects and asked whether one could be rotated to match the other. When participants played the game on their own, they gave a wrong answer only 14% of the time. When they played with a group… they gave the wrong answer significantly more often. The trick was… in the group-play version… other “players” unanimously gave the wrong answer… and the individual player themselves gave the wrong answer (in conformity to the group) some 41% of the time (as opposed to 14%, when playing alone). Berns took pictures of the brain while all of this was going on and saw that, when playing with a group, the individual displayed more activity in the part of the brain that dealt with visual and spatial perception: People were not consciously choosing an incorrect answer in order to conform to the group… Playing in a group altered their perception.
This work shows that the moment we enter a group we unconsciously want, or feel the need, to conform. The scary thing is that we’re not even aware that we might be abandoning our own conviction, belief or values in order to conform to what appears to be the dominant conviction, belief or value of the group.
Inversely, it also implies that it can be much easier to be part of a group since we don’t have to expend emotional energy “swimming upstream” against the crowd.
Nobody wants to be outside of the group… it’s a lonely place to be, and loneliness can be painful.
I repeat…. so what?
What does this have to do with short term missions? I was reminded again, recently, of the sacrifice that can be involved in missions. It is really an “against the tide” undertaking.
I had been aware of the story of Bro. & Sis. Verner and Abbigail Larsen who pioneered the work in Colombia, South America. Danish by birth and Canadian by naturalization, they arrived in 1936 to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to that country. Only eighteen months later, Sis. Larsen died in childbirth, leaving Bro. Larsen with a young son and newborn daughter. Rather than returning to Canada, as the mission board urged him to do, he buried his wife and remained on the field for many years to follow.
What amazing sacrifice!
More recently I was reminded of the sacrifice of missions with the passing, while on the mission field, of Sis. Cynthia White, last Friday, May 16th; a lady that Rev. Jack Cunningham once referred to as a “modern day Deborah”**
Appointed as an intermediate missionary to Jordan back in 2010, she had several years of missions experience prior to that, mostly through the AIM program.
She pastored a Filipino work in Jordan and worked with other culturally-centered churches as well as coordinating prayer efforts and ladies-ministries.
What an amazing sacrifice… not just for her, but for her family.
A Jump into the Unknown
Filled with faith, hope and love, both of these missionary families jumped into the unknown: A place where they couldn’t see ahead of time what path their feet might tread. But neither can we see, yet, the reward that is theirs for having walked the road less traveled. At one point, however, they met with the unexpected.
I’m reminded of the words of the old hymn written by American gospel songwriter Ira Stanphill:
Many things about tomorrow
I don’t seem to understand
But I know who holds tomorrow
And I know who holds my hand
There can be pain in independence. There can be pain in swimming upstream. There can be pain in standing out from the crowd… but no pearl comes at a meager price, no crown without a cross.
* Thankful for their example *
- Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain
** Jack Cunningham tweet, April 13 2013