Being accepted into the social group seems to have some type of biological inspiration behind it. We look at social acceptance, and recognize that it's extremely scary for a person to be cast out of the social group.
Imagine, if you will, a tribe in the middle of the jungle. They're surrounded by all kinds of dangerous animals, plants and terrain. To walk out of the protection of the circle is to invite many different dangers to prey on you.
So you cooperate with your small community, and everybody shares in the hunting, gathering of food, cooking, and building of homes, etc.
One night, you say something that nobody in the tribe likes. They all look at you like you've got three heads. The chief leans in and asks you to repeat what you just said. You, with some naivete, repeat exactly what you said. The whole tribe then throws their hands in the air and an entire chaotic ruckus begins around you.
The chief tears his hat apart. The women cry and swoon. The men rage and gnash their teeth at you. All of a sudden, you're picked up by grabbing, groping hands and lifted over the heads of your fellow tribesmen. You look down and see your own mother, with a look of disgust and fury, returning your gaze.
You shout. You cry. You repent. But it does you no good. The tribe has determined that you do not deserve to be a part of the community. And so they reach the outer circle of your community, and with a swift throw, you're tossed into the jungle.
Your mother screams something at you that sounds like a mix between a regret and a curse, and suddenly spear points poke at your butt, forcing you farther into the jungle.
It's obvious. You've been excommunicated from the tribe. You've been shunned for what you've said.
My friend, you just got canceled.
Facing that jungle at night and by yourself can be a most fearsome moment. In that instant, you recognize the power of having a group around you. In fact, maybe you call one last pleading yelp to your tribe, but silence returns. They want nothing to do with you.
And so now, surviving on your own is vital.
Or perhaps you say your most offensive, horrible and -istic statement, and the tribe doesn't want to just throw you out. No, they want to castrate you, skin you alive, and eat you for your harmful comments.
This could possibly induce more fear in a person than just being shunned, but the social risk of your comment led you to be cast out.
While all of this sounds rather extreme to those of us who live out our days in an american culture with internet, grocery stores and social programs – we can't forget that social excommunication or intense attack can happen. This builds in us a fear of man, and that fear of man weighs the risk of what we have against what we could lose if we draw the ire of men.
The fear of man, or the seeking of the approval of man goes deeper than this though. We seek the approval of our fellow man because it builds us up the social ladder. As we provide satisfaction to others on a regular basis, they're more likely to like us, and therefore more likely to help us when we need. We build relationships and use those relationships to ensure protection, safety, and resources.
And then there are some people who seem to have no fear of what others think, threaten or do. They seem to march to their own drum and do their own thing, precisely because they want to and they can.
As Christians, we are called to move beyond the fear of man, and to move into a realm of fearing God (or a real respect of His power...if you rather.)
When I was growing up, I found myself always very interested in what other people thought of me, and very eager to make others happy with me. I believe this grew out of a desire for words of affirmation, or my most well-received love language. Words of affirmation tend to drive me, and just a little bit of encouragement, or someone noticing what I've done and speaking positively about it, keeps me going for a long time.
Unfortunately, this built in me a need to make sure that everybody was happy with me. I grew up being the quintessential people-pleaser...yet loved to be a contrarian. I was a weird breed.
The problem with people-pleasing is that you quickly and easily disregard how you feel about something in order to ensure someone else gets what they want. It extends to opinions. If you give your opinion and somebody disagrees, you're quick to squash your own opinion in favor for the other person's. If you get in a disagreement, you automatically start to question your own position, and figure the other person knows better than you do. You avoid conflict in order to keep the peace, because after all, the last thing you want to do is to make somebody mad or upset with you.
I've witnessed people carry these strong tendencies into adulthood with disastrous results. People get attacked online and it tears down their entire world. They get in a fight with someone they respect, and they can't shake the feeling that they are worthless. They use the opinions of others to set the image they hold of themselves, and are quick to silence anything that looks like it might not fit into someone else's mold.
Christians heavily fear sharing the gospel. They don't want to raise a conflict with their neighbors. They don't want to look crazy or stupid. They don't want to force their religion on someone else.
And I get it. Some people are evangelists and they love nothing more than telling the world about Jesus. But even if we're not evangelists: why is it we can talk about football, art, music or cars, but we can't talk about our creator and savior?
Many people, (especially Christians) have a fear of man. This radiates out in everything we do, and it controls us.
While I've watched it in my own life, I am doing my best to learn how to stifle this fear of man, pray for its removal, and focus on my fear of God instead. The less I concern myself with what someone said about me, or that latest attack on Youtube, the more comfortable I feel in sharing my opinion and listening to the Holy Spirit...no matter what the tribe says.
This process can actually be helped. We can condition ourselves to grow tougher emotionally when faced with the opinions of the world. It takes exposure to conflict, contrary opinions, and even mocking/insults. A small stream of these has improved my ability to laugh at the insults and mocking, thoughtfully consider the contrary opinions, and be quite alright with unresolved conflict. Not that I don't seek to resolve the conflict, but we have to also understand that some conflict just won't be resolved.
My life is also filled with a steady diet of encouragement, and identity building with Christ. Words of encouragement come from those all around me, whom I consider family and friends. It also comes from the Lord Himself through their mouths, through His own voice, and through His Scripture.
As I grow in my identity in Christ and go deeper in relationship with God, the less concern I have on whether men like me or not.
The more confident I become in my skills, the less concern I have with the opinions of those who doubt or insult my skills.
The more knowledgeable I become about topics, the less fear I have that another man will know something that will decimate me.
Yet, the more humble in all these areas I become. I recognize my shortcomings, and becoming more confident in your identity opens you up to the peaceful nature of learning where you fail, are weak and need improvement.
I know that sounds backwards, but hear me out. Being confident and in peace inside is not about puffing up your chest and having more pride than anyone else. It's actually about creating a rock solid core of yourself that invites improvement and takes what is necessary from the things around you. You can take the correction more easily, because you've grown in your identity. You're more sure of yourself, and therefore not as destroyed when somebody tries to put a chink in your armor.
Now, I believe this whole process intimately aligns with Inner Healing, but that's for another day.
The fact is, our fear of man holds us back. It keeps us from realizing our true identity, what we can accomplish, and what the Lord wants to do through us. As long as we keep our eyes on the others, and fear the results of them throwing us in the jungle, we can't possibly do what the Lord has asked.
But when we trust Him and His provision, we grow in not being as concerned about what we may lose. He provides for us, He protects us, and He is the only one we need to be concerned about.
And when we keep our eyes on Him, we don't have time to focus on the aims of other people. But, as we grow in our relationship with Him, we begin loving other people DESPITE what they do to us. Now, no longer is it about their effect on us, but our effect on them.
I'll end with this: grow in Christ, and you'll shrink in your fear of man.