Groupthink and Defending My Man

Sometimes dealing with the cultural differences here is exhausting. Over the years we’ve not only had to deal with judgements from other foreigners who don’t have enough experience (or who think they do) to understand all the nuances and reasons for why we choose to do what we do or say here, and we’ve had it from the local community for a variety of reasons. I know I’ve talked about some of that at length, so I’m not going to go there again today.

This morning I saw a link on a missionary friends facebook page that talked about the concept of groupthink.

“Groupthink, a term coined by social psychologist Irving Janis (1972), occurs when a group makes faulty decisions because group pressures lead to a deterioration of “mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment” (p. 9).  Groups affected by groupthink ignore alternatives and tend to take irrational actions that dehumanize other groups.  A group is especially vulnerable to groupthink when its members are similar in background, when the group is insulated from outside opinions, and when there are no clear rules for decision making.”

You can go to the link here.

I think the break down of the 8 “symptoms” is interesting. Lord knows we’ve seen it over and over while living here, both within the organizational community (those working and living in country) and in the local community.

Haiti is known for it’s manifestations when the people protest because they aren’t happy about something. It might be because they haven’t gotten electricity as often as they would like, or because someone did something in the community that they aren’t happy about. It’s very normal for a few people to stir up those that might otherwise go on about their daily lives to the point where a mob gathers, roads are blocked, tires are burning and machetes are swinging. In most cases it’s easy to tell those that are truly passionate about the cause, and those that go along with things because they get wrapped up in just wanting to be a part of something. If you asked the latter what was really going on they probably wouldn’t fully understand why they were protesting in the first place. You’ll see others going on about their business, shaking heads, and trying not to get involved. The speed at which these things can escalate here is amazing. You don’t want to stick around when you see a crowd gathering.

Earlier this week I had to go run some errands in St. Marc. One thing on my list was to drop some papers off at the notary’s office. The street outside was incredibly dusty. The notary’s office had a one foot by one foot sign plastered on the outside wall. Inside, the exterior room was small with metal folding chairs lining each side. The two guys that were responsible for keeping an eye on things were drinking a Prestige. It was afternoon so I guess that’s allowed. I was told to poke my head in the notary’s office, which was nothing more than a small section in the back that was divided off from the rest of the room by a make shift wall built out of 2×4’s and 1/4 inch MDF. The kind of wall you don’t lean on because it’ll fall over. I popped my head in and let him know I was there and told him I wasn’t in a rush and I was happy to wait while he finished with his current client. I sat in the “waiting room” and watched life around me.

A couple minutes in a couple of guys came in. The kind that obviously think they’re something, especially in front of a white woman, and who have something to prove. Eventually the conversation came around to me, how long I had been here, where I lived etc. One of the guys, the one that everyone sort of looked at as the “popular kid” like Junior High students might said, “Oh, you’re Madame Chris.” Oh great, here we go.

A few minutes later he leaned forward and said, “Madame Chris, karakte ou pase karate mari ‘w.” Madame Chris, your character is better than your husbands.

Reaaallly. 

I’m so tired of this. I’m tired of my husband being judged by people who have never met him because the grapevine runs wild here.

It was my turn. I smiled and politely said, “Really? Why is that?”

He doesn’t have good character.

Hmmm.

Then I decided I was done with all of this. I wasn’t going to smile and nod any more and be culturally accepting because sometimes right and wrong isn’t based on culture, it’s based on what God tells us is right and wrong.

I, again politely, started to speak. I even had a smile on my face.

“I think you should be careful about what you believe. I can tell you that the people with the loudest voices aren’t always the ones you need to be listening to. In fact, often the ones with the loudest voices are the ones that don’t really know what they’re saying. There are a lot of people in our area that like to make a lot of noise, but I can guarantee that most, if not all of them, have never met or spoken to my husband face to face. They hear someone else making a lot of noise in the community, so they start saying the same things. But, they have never met him face to face. They have never come to talk to him. They have never been with him long enough to learn what kind of character he has. People need to be careful about what they believe to be true because the ones with the loudest voices might be the ones that have the least information. My husband is a good man, and just because someone has a problem with him doesn’t mean the whole community needs to talk badly about him. Everyone has a responsibility to talk to someone face to face before they start talking badly about them, and not very many people have ever done that in Pierre Payen. They all like to talk, but they don’t like to make the effort to find out if what they’re saying is true.”

I was calm. I was polite. I was respectful. I wasn’t angry. Just sharing person to person. Maybe there’s more to this than you’ve wanted to think about.

I was met with silence. The occasional head nod from the other cronies in the room. But mostly silence. In Haiti people like to talk if they think they have something to say. When there is nothing it is often because a point has been made and those listening know there is truth to it. When people disagree they are loud about it.

Then I was called into the notary’s office. I did my business, then walked out the floppy door, between the rows of chairs and knees of men sipping their Prestige.

Have a nice afternoon!

Back across the dusty street to my car and off to pick Olivia up from school. I may never see those men again. Chances are pretty good. But, I see my husband every day and seeing his eyes when I told him what happened and how I defended him to those that haven’t taken the time to get to know him made every word worth it.

~Leslie

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About Leslie

I'm Leslie. Wife. Mother. Missionary. In the day to day my husband and I are responsible for running Clean Water for Haiti, a humanitarian mission that builds and distributes water filters to Haitian families. Living in Haiti full time provides lots of stories, and as I tell my husband, our grandkids probably won't believe most of them. Maybe writing them down will give me some credibility.

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