Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

For Me Or For The Masses?

Written by: on March 6, 2015

For me or for the masses?

Sometimes we do things for the greater good, in support of a cause that reaches farther than our own little “first place” environments.  Other times, we do things simply because it’s what we want to do, because it makes us better or, at least, to feel better.  So, while the visible, net result may look the same — I pick up trash from the park across the street for example — the core motivation may be very different.  I may care very little about the overall environmental condition of the planet and instead, selfishly desire to not have to look at trash as I gaze out my front window.  Whatever the motivation, the end result is the trash gets picked up.  There doesn’t ALWAYS have to be a deeper sociological reason.

For the authors of Rebel Sell, this is unacceptable.  There must be a deeper underpinning that animates the masses’ purchasing decisions and thoughtful behaviors.  People are found in polarities and if you can successfully group people at one end or the other a culture war is the result.  This seems to be the formula for both sides of the culture clash debates.  Create schisms along largely artificial differences and then exploit the emotions of each side for gain.  Hmmm… does this tip the hand of the authors’ fundamental orientation?

Since people move in masses, swept along by the momentum of the crowd, to investigate sweeping movements, there must be sweeping statements of explanation.  “Every” “always” “all”…  This unfortunate tendency culminates in a concocted argument between “capitalists” and “communists” when in reality, most people do not land at either extremity on the continuum.  Most people are found somewhere in the middle, perhaps leaning to one side or the other but for the most part, seeing the world in the grey.

Back to the issue of core motivations…  An example illustrating the authors’ opinion relative to motivations is found on page 263 of the book.  They contend that a shift in motivation occurred when the “pioneering culture” (think pot-smoking HIPPIES!) “decided that the attempt to change the dominant institutions of society through the development of a new mass consciousness had been fruitless.”1  In other words, there MUST be a grander explanation as to why the early counter-culture people were acting in divergent ways other than simply… they wanted to.  And since they MUST have had a deeper motivation than just “I want to,” it follows that when they weren’t hitting the marks demanded by their “motivation” (utopia) then a re-articulation was in order.  So, “[p]ublic activism gave way to exploring new ways of living at the grass roots level of society… counter-cultural rebels turned inward, and an entire generation of activists tried to move ‘beyond intellectual alienation and despair to directly encounter the place where we are all one.’” 2

It seems that Heath and Potter have a compulsion to interpret individual behaviors through the lens of mass societal moment rather than just recognizing that people are people, we all have our own modalities of life.  MUST we always be driven by a deeper “why?”  Is it not possible that the explanation is as simple as “I want to make a difference so I’m going to buy fair-trade coffee.” (a la The Community Coffee Shop, Find us on FaceBook and tell your friends! (just a little capitalist humor to lighten the mood…)) Or “I would rather not look at trash in the park so I think I’ll go pick it up.”  Or “I prefer to drive the Maserati over the Hyundai.”

I’m really not trying to push the system toward either pole.  Simple.  (Hmmm… is that Voluntary Simplicity????



1. Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter, The Rebel Sell: Why the Culture Can’t Be Jammed (Toronto: HarperCollins, 2004), 263.

2. Ibid.

About the Author

Jon Spellman

Jon is a husband, father, coach, author, missional-thinker, and most of all, a follower of Jesus.

10 responses to “For Me Or For The Masses?”

  1. Nick Martineau says:

    Jon, I think asking motivation is a great question but so hard to pin down. One day I’ll drive the extra mile, buy fair trade coffee and help the local coffee business. The next day I just want to make life easier on myself so I drive through Starbucks. My motivations can change day to day. Caroline Ramsey would say we need better “Attentional Disciplines – ongoing moment by moment judgement.”

  2. Dawnel Volzke says:

    Jon, Great review. I also found it difficult to agree with the authors, as they failed to leave room for those “gray” areas. Working in marketing, I see every day the movement of “mass” groups of people, and the influence that consumerism has on society. However, I don’t agree that counter-culture movements never achieve good outcomes. Maybe they don’t achieve their full goals, but I have seen them move the needle in a direction that society would consider good. Take, for example, my own generation. I grew up in an era where church was very legalistic. Over my lifetime, mass numbers of Christians determined that Christianity was about more than rules. Hence, today we have Churches that allow us to “come as we are”, wearing jeans and singing popular music that more closely resonates with our real lives. Now, I’m not saying that traditions in church are bad, rather as Christian consumers speak we create communities that can connect to the current culture. In my mind, this is a very good thing! So, today’s younger generations can thank all of us rebels who were willing to show up to church in shorts and tank tops.

    • Brian Yost says:

      “However, I don’t agree that counter-culture movements never achieve good outcomes.”

      That is a great point. The authors accuse the countercultural advocates of wanting all or nothing. When they can’t get all they want (a total breakdown and restructuring of society) they just give in to the status quo. The reality looks different as we can trace major shifts in our cultural “norms” over the last few decades that are tied in with counterculturalism. (not sure if that is a word, but it should be)

      • Jon Spellman says:

        Good points both of you. I wonder how those in any counter-culture would measure “success?” Do they see victory if an adjustment of 1 click is accomplished when their stated goal was 5 clicks or 10? If 5 clicks aren’t achieved, do they throw up their hands and say “oh well, our activism hasn’t worked, let’s just go back to the way things were?”


  3. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Jon, Nice shameless plug for the coffee shop. I get what you are serving up here. There is something to your thinking. My wife seems to be one who sees the simple. We are always considering the possibility of planting another church and starting another network in a new territory. I sometimes fear that the culmination of my dissertation is going to be ultimately that the best way for me to contribute to making the world a better place will be to go and do that. So I think there is a great possibility that from all the learning, growing, stretching, bending, twisting, and shaping that my life is going through with DMINLPG5, in the end I will have a very deep theological and sociological reason to go and plant that church and next network or whatever, and Andrea my wife will then be ready and simply say, now it is time to do what we have always thought we would do. Maybe this is a case for the both/and. Maybe every action is simple and it has does ultimately have a profound affect on society. More questions than answers as seems to be a developing theme in life . . . but great post!!!

    • Jon Spellman says:

      Phil, if that were to be one of the end results of this 3 year journey — essentially landing right where you probably would have landed anyway — will you feel that it has been worth it? Do you think the network you plant will look differently than if you hadn’t been in this program?


  4. Dave Young says:

    Jon, So if the two poles are capitalism and communism (a socially acceptable version of it anyway) then I understand you to be saying you’re comfortable with picking and choosing according to your own personal preferences at any given time depending on your desires and the circumstances. Volitional, emotional, personal, rational consumption. Not a discerning consumption based on some greater social good, or WWJD philosophy – just simply what makes sense at the time. Ouch. I think I am one.

    However I like where Nick landed at the end of his post, he allowed his consumption to be theologically reflective – that’s praxis and it makes sense to me to move in that direction.

    • Jon Spellman says:

      I don’t know that I am ok with staying in a self-centered place, I think I have to always be moving towards wherever Jesus wants me to be in light of the socioeconomic realities of my culture. Although I do resonate with your statement “whatever makes sense at the time” so long as it is whatever makes sense to the Holy Spirit. I have to admit to being, instinctively, a self-centric, entitled, privileged American consumer with a low tolerance for discomfort. I’m not ok staying there but that’s an honest assessment of present reality.

      I think I’m observing that the authors of the book might be making more of what are ultimately individual, case by case, decisions, assigning them value on a societal level.


  5. Mary Pandiani says:

    You use the word simplicity (a few times). I wonder if there is more value in that focus than in the analytical “why” focus where we tear apart what we know. While I want to always ask “why” (it’s that psych background of mine), I’m beginning to think life operates better in synthesis – putting pieces back together. Hmmm, you’ve given me food for thought.

  6. Travis Biglow says:

    Lol Jon, you got Hyudai? I think that that core motivation of anyone is always expressed in crazy ways at times. Expressing yourself is always scary to some because if its not accepted some people tend to introvert. I feel that the way the hippies expressed themselves was a great but retarted way of being a counter culture. The great part was that they started a movement and many people joined it. The retarted part was the degredation of themselves through drugs, orgies, and being a burdent to society instead of a healing movement!

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