Not every member came every week, to the relief of most. When Diane was back in town some would skip. She was always loud, critical, quick to send food back, never satisfied. The flight home had been terrible. The hotel had been awful. She would never go to such a boring place again. So it went. Diane domineered and complained.
What could the group do? Their tolerance was tested. They wanted to be welcoming. They had been together for a long time. But Diane was toxic. In her wake came frantic texts and voice mails. Something had to be done. But what? They wanted to welcome her but they did not want to be poisoned.
How do groups deal with outrageous members? The early Christians had this problem. They were caught between wanting to be open and accepting, and feeling there were limits. Then and now, healthy groups must define acceptable behavior. Some things are out of bounds.
But a firm hand requires a soft touch. The early Christians resolved to pursue discussion. Patient honesty became the ideal. They would talk directly and kindly, not behind backs. It did not always work and could easily encounter sensitivities.
Through it all, it helps to remember why people are negative. Dr. Raj Raghunathan’s research concludes that “almost all negativity has its roots in one of three deep-seated fears: the fear of being disrespected by others, the fear of not being loved by others, and the fear that ‘bad things’ are going to happen.” If we are dismissive rather than compassionate, it only confirms for them that they are unlovable.
Rather than quietly condemn and exclude, conversation that is ever inviting is the best approach. It’s time for a talk with Diane.