One of the most common issues that I come across with regards to dealing with communication with other people is that the difference between inside and outside plays havoc with how we see others and how we deal with the way that others see ourselves. I would like to begin with a story. Recently I was participating in an online discussion about music and it came to a popular country artist whose music I am not particularly fond of who has attracted a fair amount of controversy to himself over the past few months. One person in the discussion tried to deny that cancellation and woke outrage mobs even existed despite having described what was meant by the term cancellation in this example (loss of radio play for his songs) and despite participating in an outrage mob of mostly leftist music critics in training. It was striking to me that the person could not recognize that they were part of a woke outrage mob despite being a part of one, and could not recognize cancel culture despite reveling in it and encouraging it. It struck me that the person was unable to recognize this because they were inside of it and those terms describe things when looking at the outside.
This is by no means a unique occurrence. This past Sabbath at our speaker’s club meeting I gave a potential sermonette and part of what I discussed dealt with the issue of identity and the names we call ourselves as well as the names that other people call us, and the blessings and curses that are inherent in those names. In the discussion that followed the message, the question came up of the way that people have long viewed our particular religious tradition as a cult, even though when pressed for definitions of what a cult was in terms of its behavior, there was little or no resemblance between the vitriol being directed at us and what they meant by this highly derogatory term. What is on the inside to be a church of people who enjoy spending time together, for the most part, and who have a consistent set of beliefs that are drawn from the Bible and liturgical practices that have been honed over the course of decades appears from the outside to be a much different set of things. And the same is true of many groups. A great many groups of people appear to be far different to outsiders than insiders, and the negative feelings we have about being left on the outside often color our perspective of what goes on outside of our notice and participation. It is hard to separate our resentment from our genuine occasional insight into the in-group workings of other people from an outsider’s perspective.
Before I begin discussing the subject in greater detail, I would like to spend a bit of time discussing why it is that I find this subject to be so interesting. For a variety of deeply unpleasant personal reasons, I have always found myself to have a highly ambivalent position when it comes to being an insider or being an outsider. I have enjoyed insider access, especially the way that it allows one to communicate one’s thoughts and opinions to people who care and to be involved in planning and logistics and operating various events in various institutions. I enjoy public service and performance of various kinds, all of which tends to allow one to see things from the point of view of an insider. Yet at the same time, I always tend to feel like an outsider despite acting like an insider, which allows for a certain sense of ironic distance between the behavior of the insider and one’s own feelings about institutions. I am not sure whether it is a desirable thing to be an insider and to act accordingly but to always feel on the outside looking in, but it has been a characteristic approach in my life over the course of my existence thus far.
As is often the case in life, being fond of boundaries and nodes and interfaces and intermediate spaces offers the opportunity for a great deal of insight about those things that one sees closely and acts with deeply but which at the same time one has a certain sense of distance from. There are a great many differences between how things look on the outside and how they act on the inside. That which appears to be threatening and conspiratorial from the outside simply appears to be sociable peers with deep personal knowledge communicating and cooperating together for mutually desirable outcomes based on common interests and belief systems when one is engaged in such things on the inside. It can be deeply difficult to convey the hurt that is caused to people when they desire to be on the inside but are never allowed there, and to convey the mistrust and suspicion that outsiders have of those who operate on the inside that often fills blank spaces with monsters of the mapmaker’s imagination bearing no relation with reality.
As is often the case, that which appears to be a merely social matter, if a pervasive one, ends up having much more deeply important consequences and repercussions for how we see the world and how we see ourselves. Before delving into the ubiquity of these sorts of misunderstandings, I think it would be worthwhile for us to examine how it is that this inside/outside divide relates to larger concerns where our skills at judgment and observation are immensely limited and where we find ourselves to far less wise and far less insightful than we may be the case. The point, of course, is not to make fun of others for what are systemic human problems, but rather to examine ourselves so that we are able to overcome some of the limitations of our nature and of our existence. But that is a subject for another day.