I remember taking a class in undergrad called Deviant Sociology. Deviance is predicated on a norm set by groups, and we learned that the chief function of groups is to replicate itself. Often, groups use tactics like fear and coercion to set boundaries and entice people to maintain their membership to the group and allegiance to group norms. That class came at a defining moment for me; it was then that I consciously decided to stop participation in organized religion because I saw many of the same tactics used to drive membership, and it caused me to doubt the true good of organization. As you may have read here, I’ve returned to organized religion but only as my ideas about the nature of groups have changed.
I’ve learned, as I enter many communities in the past five years ranging from Trying to Conceive blog circles to Brown Girls who Write, that groups don’t have to be cults of personality or mob mentalities. There are positive ways that groups serve our lives-- they amplify our energy and purpose, and contribute to a greater, universal good. Still, there are obstacles that make some of us hesitant to participate in organized assemblages:
- Face it, some of us have been burned in the past, whether it be “church hurt” or being ostracized from the “cool kids.” And it stings, and we’ve resolved to never experience that pain again.
- Some of us are introverted, present company included. Let me clarify. Introverted doesn’t always mean shy because Lord knows that I can be quite the social butterfly once I get myself “there.” Instead, introverts feel drained from social interactions and need to recharge solo as opposed to people who get their energy from being with others.
- Lastly, the tendency to compare yourself to others and finding that you don’t think you’re quite good enough prevent us from joining groups. Just like with the first reason, we don’t want that constant reminder of how we are not “there,” so we shy away from group participation.
All of these obstacles to group membership are all the more reason to find the right place for you. I know it sounds oxymoronic to say that to heal from past experiences with groups is to join a group, but hear me out. Finding the right group can liberate and uplift you. How do you know it’s the right group? I thought you’d never ask.
Checklist for positive groups and organizations
- It challenges you to realize your voice and your good instead of dogmatically telling you what should be your good.
- It gives you tools, resources and vehicles, not just venting and commiserating.
- You leave feeling inspired, recharged, and believing in possibility, not drained and judged.
- There are multiple trajectories for success.
- Members are in various places in their journeys, not just the ones who’ve “made it” as leaders while everyone else is trying to “catch up.”
- You see your own values reflected, not only in the stated mission but in the ways people interact and how business is conducted.
- You are valued for your participation AND contribution.
- There is value in growth for members in all places of their journey, not an absolute bar of success.
How does this list compare to groups you’ve participated in or groups you’ve led? How does this inspire you to find an affirming group or create one? Share away!