The Rabble Among Us

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Listen to “The Rabble Among Us” by Fred Smith

 

It’s not just me but a growing number of people have made comments about a theme running through commencement speeches for the last several years. Do what matters most to you. Find your passion and follow it. Explore your deepest self. Follow your dreams and, most importantly, find yourself. 

It seems that the task is to make the world a better place for you chiefly. While that sounds like a value hatched by Baby Boomers and passed along to the next generation, the roots of it are found thousands of years ago in a passage from the book of Numbers.

The tribes of Israel had managed to be obedient to God and Moses for only three days until a group of outsiders who early on attached themselves to the people began to stir them up with thoughts of why they deserved more than the miraculous food they were receiving. While a small number, these outsiders (called rabble) had a voice and had studied the people enough to know even miracles after a couple of days are followed with, “What have you done for me lately?”

Relative Deprivation

They remind me of the late community organizer, Saul Alinsky, who wrote in Rules for Radicals that organizing is the process of highlighting whatever is wrong and convincing people they can do something about it. The organizer, especially an outside organizer, must first overcome suspicion and establish credibility. Next, the organizer must begin the task of agitating: rubbing resentments, fanning hostilities and searching out controversy. This is necessary to get people to participate. An organizer has to attack apathy and disturb the prevailing patterns of complacent community life where people have come to accept a situation: “The first step in community organization is community disorganization.”

Organizing people around their seeming minor discontent is naturally easier, isn’t it? Rabble organizers have antennae for people who have come to feel deserving but impotent, and they stir them up – not necessarily to a boil but enough to make them grumble when they once had rejoiced.

On what did the rabble focus? Not on hunger but dissatisfaction with the variety of food: “At least we had free fish in Egypt…Is it too much to ask?” They used the tool of relative deprivation to compare what they had with others – even if the others were still slaves in Egypt.

Relative deprivation compares what we have with those similar to us. Reading about the lives of the super-rich is more of a distraction than a cause for torment. It is entertainment. Instead, we typically compare ourselves to people having a little more than we do or we envision our life and work really being about our personal fulfillment and convenience. All dissatisfaction begins with comparison – either to someone else or what we imagine would give us the happiness that is ours by right. It begins in the vague feeling that someone who may have once been generous is now withholding something from you. It begins with “this is unfair,” and “I am being cheated.” It begins in our imagination as a conspiracy.

Enemies Of Gratitude

The rabble are the sworn enemies of gratitude, and gratitude is what they need to attack right away.

Relative deprivation is not the same as godly ambition or the desire to make something better of yourself or your circumstances. Neither is it taking advantage of an opportunity. Instead, it is the corrosive dissatisfaction that, instead of creating healthy change, only destroys the soul. It is what creates entitlement and eventually an enslavement to anger, resentment and envy.

This ancient story has just as much application today. The fate of those outside voices stirring us up to discontent and complaint about what we have from God is just as true now. It may take longer to have an effect than it does here in Numbers with the quick and dramatic death of those who incited the grumbling. Yet, the end result of manipulating people to believe they are being short-changed by God or to create dissatisfaction for no good purpose is still the same. They may not physically die from a plague, but their souls wither and they end up in the same place – the grave of craving. The grave of relative deprivation. The grave of envy.

Tragically, the effect of their work remains for the rest of the lives of that generation of Israel. They could not stop what they had started – suspicion, dissatisfaction and entitlement. They could not restart what they had stopped – gratitude, obedience and wonder.

We all have rabble in our lives. For each of us there are insistent voices that whisper or shout,“Just a little bit more and you’ll get what you deserve.”And, sadly, we sometimes do.

 

Art by Magnus Zeller

This is an excerpt from Where The Light Divides

 

 

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Showing 12 comments
  • Avatar
    Charles Gordon
    Reply

    “All dissatisfaction begins with comparison”
    Wow Fred- so true well said

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Charley! You are incomparable.

  • Avatar
    Brad Hewitt
    Reply

    Fred, I too find the “rabble” love to destroy gratitude in me. (Sometimes I’m the rabble.) The other things that fall by the wayside for me are grace and generosity. Being surrounded by a Godly group to encourage me back to gratitude, grace and generosity has been one of the greatest blessing in my life.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Yes. Someone recommended I retitle it “The Rabble In Me” as well.

  • Avatar
    Joe Wu
    Reply

    Gratitude, obedience and wonder … Thank you, Fred, for these antidotes to the rabble in and around me.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Joe. It’s not a fair trade in the end, is it?

  • Avatar
    Mike Murray
    Reply

    Fred: the fourth paragraph from the end is really important. Distinguishing between the dynamics of envy, comparison, and ingratitude on the one hand, versus needed change, righteous anger, and unfair distribution of goods and services on the other, IS the difference between “rabble rousing” and, for example, the “civil rights movement” or the “Declaration of Independence”. Thus, Reinhold Niebuhr’s famous prayer for “wisdom to know the difference” is vital.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Mike. Yes, I could not agree more. There is “good trouble” and then rabble rousing.

  • Avatar
    Kerry Hasenbalg
    Reply

    The greatest of all tragedies is found here in these poetic words you penned, Fred … tears fall as I read them… “
    “They could not stop what they had started – suspicion, dissatisfaction and entitlement. They could not restart what they had stopped – gratitude, obedience and wonder.”
    Lord Jesus, don’t let us lose these things, they are as breath to us. Don’t let us listen to the rabble and so lose the wonder, don’t let ME lose the gratitude and obedience that stems from the wonder!!!

    The grave of craving!!!! That is a grave indeed! We must take our craving and our longings to the One who provides what we seek if we would only ask Him. But if we don’t seek, we remain in that grave and blame others for our condition. Lord, help us all!

    Fred, thanks again!

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Kerry. Yes, there is a point of no return and, sadly, there are no posted signs telling us where that is. We have warnings along the way but tend to ignore them or we are fooled by the rabble into believing them. We are so much like sheep being led astray.

  • Avatar
    John Sims
    Reply

    As ever, Fred, thanks for your thoughts — and thanks to Mike Murray for weighing in with his perspective. One thing never changes: my appreciation of the wisdom you have both shared with me over the years. All the best, this holiday season and always.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, John. I think Mike has a lock on the wisdom part.

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