Archive for the 'groups' Category

Liberal levels

January 30, 2014

I really appreciated reading Father Rohr’s Daily Meditation for today.  It’s about “levels” and “stages”of development, and today he observes the stage at which many liberals get stuck.  He’s already observed that conservatives seem to be stuck at a previous stage.

I am so appreciative of reading this because I have found myself of late criticizing a number of regular liberal commenters in the NYTimes comments threads for things that seem to me rather similar to the rabble-rousing through disingenuous techniques and a lack of compassion and respect that they decry in their opponents.  It has looked to me like similar limited process only filled with different content — liberal beliefs instead of conservative.  Maybe I understand this as being stuck at a particular level but at a slightly different stage within it.

I find myself asking myself, “Why am I taking these comments on?”  I really am not sure, I do try not to be simply reactive, I try to distinguish between a reaction and an answer to a call to act.  I don’t have the impression I will directly influence those whose comments I criticize, I do it in the spirit that for me to not do so would be worse, including for me.

I think I’m kind of used to not fitting in with particular ideological groups — neither did Willy, and we used to talk about it a lot.  I still miss having company with that.


Insiders and outsiders

February 16, 2013

I wrote a comment on the NYTimes website (a reply to replies to a comment I wrote last night to Gail Collins’ column) just earlier about my sense that we need to address our tendency to insist on forming groups and designating “insiders” and “outsiders.”  As I wrote, we instead seem to become serially indignant at the manifestations of this dynamic (and that that is like trying to cut heads off the Hydra).

I thought I’d link here to a song that helped me clarify this concept a long time ago.  It’s by Ralph McTell and called, I think, “Father, Forgive Them.”

I go back and listen to the line about how we are the ones who “make outsiders and it’s we who give them names” when I want to revisit my understanding of how pernicious and fundamental this mistake is.

It also includes the idea I find so helpful about trying to remember that other people are laboring under their own burdens and damage as they move through this world and our encounter of them.

Whence it comes

January 10, 2013

I wrote last night about Nick Kristof’s argument that Chuck Hagel’s use of the term “Jewish lobby” cannot imply antisemitism because Jewish groups or newspapers sometimes use the term.  I wrote that such a term sounds different depending on whether it is said by a member of the group or by a person outside of it.

I thought I’d mention here what I think is going on that distinguishes the two dynamics:  love.

Like my college roommate who would hear no criticism of her father and his second marriage but herself once questioned whether the relationship had begun before her parents’ marriage ended; she said, “Yes, I know I said it was all on the up and up, but do you really believe that?” with the air of somebody who obviously didn’t.  But she could say that because she still clearly loved her dad.

I think it’s similarly true of a group’s own use of a term that might have some pejorative overtones.  If a member of the group uses it, dubious as that may be, there is still usually a connection that includes love (along with a mix of other emotions) between the member and the group, and that connection attenuates the threat of complete betrayal.  It limits the bounds of the negative point and overtones of the episode, at least in most cases, I think.  About a member outside the group we have no such sense of how far the criticism may extend.

An analogous example somewhere between candor about relatives and group terms are ethnic jokes.

In the best of all possible worlds, we don’t gossip about relatives or tell ethnic jokes, or use pejorative terms, about people in our own groups or people in other groups.  Admittedly, all of us don’t live in that world or live in it all the time.  I think there is a pretty bright line, though, between using a term about somebody else’s group and using one about one’s own.  I think the speaker’s meaning comes out different in the respective instances and the listener’s understanding of what is meant is apt to be, at least subtly, different.

That, I think, is the basis for my criticism of Nick Kristof’s argument defending Chuck Hagel’s use of the term he used.  To me his use of it asks for explanation of what lies behind it.  I wouldn’t assume I can predict exactly what does lie behind it, but to me it needs at least an explanatory context that the other examples Kristof cites do not.  In other words, I’m left with a question of “What did he mean by that?” that has import in a way that is not relevant to the term’s use in the other examples.

The secret handshake

December 19, 2012

I apparently didn’t learn it.

I was at a talk last night, and beforehand, someone came up to me and said, “Do I know you?  You look familiar.”  I gave it a shot, trying to guess if she seemed familiar to me from other talks on similar topics, and asking if we had met at one of those, but no.

She turned out to be the rabbi giving the introductory prayer before the talk.  Made me wonder in retrospect whether she had really been asking me if I am Jewish.  (To be perfectly honest, my first –hopeful — thought had been to wonder if she had known somehow I loved prayer, but then a more prosaic and likely explanation occurred to me.)

I had to leave before the end of the program, so I didn’t have a chance to tell her how much I enjoyed the prayer she sang.

As a footnote, let me add that I decided at the last minute to wear a pair of red clogs, because otherwise I was dressed pretty much in black and gray.  I also grabbed a red paisley shawl for color and a light purple jacket (instead of the black one I had been using earlier in the day).  So I was amused when I noticed that the main speaker was dressed in gray and wearing red scuffs or mules (sort of soft-soled red clogs, I’m not sure about the heel height).  The rabbi, by the way, was wearing, in the style of a stole, a beautiful solid red scarf, maybe silk.

Group dynamics

November 8, 2012

When interactions between or among individuals who need to be working for a common good bog down, they can take a step back and work on process.  Twelve-step groups sometimes take a “group inventory,” families sometimes seek counseling, sports teams might have some sort of meeting, musical groups and businesses, too.  Here’s my question:  why doesn’t Congress?  Roger Fisher is deceased, but there are others well versed in teaching people to negotiate productively.  I’m sure Congress could find a couple of figures they could agree on to co-chair some sort of house-cleaning of the two chambers.  Being dysfunctional may feel good from the inside, but it just looks unnecessary and self-indulgent from the point of view of (many) observers.  Maybe these folks can’t distinguish between positive attention and negative attention, but I would have thought they’d like to be thought of as a Congress that did its job effectively.  I hope they don’t think that because they are “Members of Congress,” they are not vulnerable to the same human weaknesses that can result in unproductive behaviors in any group situation.

Passing plays

May 25, 2012

I don’t actually have much experience playing team sports (Willy had a surprisingly negative attitude towards them, which I never quite understood; he fenced, épée, which I learned when I asked him early on in our relationship about his legs and he explained how lunging with a heavy weapon — he had no idea why his high school coach had assigned it to him, since he was very small for his age then — had developed them), but I was thinking this morning about passing plays I’ve watched in team sports like ice hockey or basketball.  I was reacting to exchanges that are not quite group discussions, such as one finds in the current commenting format on the NYTimes website.  Sometimes it feels to me like an object in play is being passed from one person to another until somebody finds the open shot — sees what would be helpful in that context to be seen.  Here, that would amount to sharing an idea or insight.  And one never knows from whom that will come — that’s one of the positive things about the internet and mass participation, I think.

Group email

April 3, 2012

I was reading an email this morning addressed to a particular member of an email group to which I belong but sent to everyone in the group as well.  And something in that email triggered in me the thought that this arrangement is kind of like how I conceptualize our individual selves’ relationship to a group consciousness: we are separate beings with whom other separate beings can communicate, but we are also part of a whole.

Unfinished business

February 27, 2012

I don’t pretend to understand Facebook.  My son helped me establish a rudimentary presence there so I could accept the NYTimes offer to post comments on their website “without moderation.”  (It’s somewhat unclear to me what that actually means.)  I finally felt moved to do even that (establish a rudimentary presence) when I fell for some spam comments here — that experience gave me more understanding of why the NYTimes requires some sort of third-party verification.

But now that I am on Facebook, I have a small sense of how it can be used.  It strikes me as an interesting mechanism for resolving unfinished business.  People can offer amends, and that feels like receiving a gift.  Or people can reveal nothing has changed, and that’s helpful, too, because the same old, same old can look different, and that provides release, too.

I suspect that that’s not really what it’s for, though.  But what I’m wondering, since I don’t really find it my métier, whether I am not particularly likely to find other people like myself through Facebook, since for them, too, it wouldn’t be their métier, either.

I’ve thought about this phenomenon before, in the context of support groups.  Support groups consist of the people with the targeted issue who are able to get to a support group, it is a self-selected population.  My impression is that this is being addressed now through things like on-line meetings and email groups and other forms of networking, but again, it puts together people who use those media comfortably and have characteristics correlated with that.

As someone who seems to have brokered a resolution between people who were so similar to each other in certain respects that they couldn’t reconcile as a dyad (they needed an intermediary), I can see some limitations of like attracting only like.  As an “intermediary,” though, it’s not that I long to belong to more of a network of intermediaries than I already do; it’s more that I feel a need to find the equivalent of a context for people who have completed that kind of work and are looking for a “second career” that suits the strengths and weakness of someone who adapted themselves, and was impacted by, the spiritual work of finding resolution for two people who each insisted that they were the needy victim and “owed” by the other.  I sometimes feel like the equivalent of one of those racing dogs who needs a new context after their racing days are over.  Not every new context will work.  But I’m pretty open to anything that does.


The opposite of orthodoxy

January 10, 2012

I do actually understand the pairing as opposites of “liberal” and “conservative,” but what I personally find more helpful is the contrast between people with airtight belief systems and those who are more open and porous.  It’s sort of related to the contrast between ideologues and non-conformists, between the orthodox and iconoclasts.

So, I’m not sure what is really gained when people jump ship from conservatism to liberalism, or vice versa.  The trouble I tend to have is with people’s being doctrinaire and imposing their beliefs on others — that sort of dynamic is quite possible regardless of whether one is for big government or little government, EPA regulations or industry independence.

I think I’ve noted before that someone once said to me that he thought the orthodox of different religions had more in common with each other than with the less observant members of their own religions.  I suspect that’s true of politics, too.  And when people change party affiliations, I’m not sure they change personalities or emotional make-ups, and I’m not sure they don’t use the same attitudes and techniques in their new context.

What I enjoy more is taking off all the labels and disaggregating all the ideas that are usually tied up together and looking for the ideas that work, that make sense of a sort, that hold up to rigorous analysis, that serve the greater good.  I probably have the dubious advantage (or bias in favor of this approach) of being somewhat ignorant of what one is supposed to think — of which ideas are supposed to go together.  Of course, being too much of a free-thinker can leave a person with fewer sure allies and without the kind of community that people who seek group affiliation and are comfortable with it enjoy.  Willy and I would notice this when we would periodically look into private schools for our kids — we fit in nowhere, both because of family composition and our beliefs (or lack of a recognizable package of them).  We would laugh about how we were a party of two.  And we didn’t get that way on purpose, it’s just where our thinking took us, and by chance we seemed to think alike — at least about anything major (not so about things like whether dishes that will eventually need scrubbing by hand should go first through the dishwasher — him, yes, me no — or whether it makes a difference whether you soak a pan in hot or cold water — he claimed cold worked just as well, but I was never convinced, his scientific explanations notwithstanding).

Anyway, I guess I maintain that free-thinking on my own, not so much out of conviction or habit but because that seems to be the way my mind works.

Full circle

December 13, 2011

When I was at the potluck supper last Friday night (mentioned in this previous post), where I’ve been going to services for the past few weeks, I ran into someone I know from another group.  And it struck me that I had ended up at the services indirectly because of somebody in that other group, somebody who has no connection to the services or to the person I ran into there, so in a way, it felt as if I had come full circle:  from the first group one person had invited me to join a second group, and someone at the second group had suggested these Friday night services, and then at the potluck at the services, somebody from the first group shows up.

So, I started thinking about how to look at that.  None of the groups has an overlapping mission with the others.  And it felt initially like a series of causes-and-effects, like a concatenation of invitations.  But then I thought, no, it’s on account of the fact that we’re all part of a (larger) community, maybe a sort of nebulous one, that shares some common characteristics about conformity (or not) and geography (greater Cambridge, MA).

Which by itself might not be particularly worthy of note, but what I liked about my series of thoughts was that it reminded me of how we sometimes see causation where there really is (only) correlation (including in medical, scientific, and social science research studies).  Each invitation did cause the next link in the chain, but really what seems to be going on is that we are one larger group that subdivides from time to time and coalesces into smaller groups, maybe like the way the pieces regroup inside a kaleidoscope when it’s turned.  From a bird’s eye view, the chain and its links are not primary, although that’s the way it may be experienced on the ground.