more skills, interventions

Andrew Rose (arose@macromedia.com)
Tue, 7 Apr 1998 12:08:17 -0800


any group will have margins and mainstreams, important for the group to
"grow" in functioning, cooperation, group-thinking, etc. is recognition and
acknowledging this fact.  In can take a while to get there though.

There are going to always be the "newcomers" and the "oldtimers", either of
whom feel marginalized, especially if they are out numbered.  There will be
people of colors, in greater or lesser numbers, there will be highly
functioning people, with varying degrees of tolerance and arrogance, there
will be people with differing communication style (for some they may be
insulted by interruptions, others may expect it), there will be religous
and athiest people, etc. and on and on and thank goodness for diversity.

The successful thing (in light of the "functioning well" goal) is going to
happen when the whole group is "together" which means that the "mainstream"
of folks feeling "a part of the group" is actually the whole group.

For this to happen either:

the folks on the margin join
OR
the mainstream grows to include the margin.

now, margins serve an important social function.  Especially in
dysfunction.  Folks in the mainstream who are followers can see the
marginalized ones and say 'glad I'm not out there', which provides a sort
of false safety - the safety of "feeling included" only in relation to
those who are not.
So this is where the 'scapegoat' comes in, which historically was a goat
that was tied up in the village that people put all their bad shit 'on'.
In human dynamic it hardly matters whether the scapegoat is jewish or black
or the wealthy kid or the kid with a lisp, it's just easier on the
mainstream if there is one.

so, what sucks about this is, and you can relate if you've been the
scapegoat, is that it has nothing to do with the reality of the
marginalized people's ability motivation character whatever.  They feel
completely bad because they are shut out, minimized, not heard, etc.


Groups will stop growing and become stagnant when some mainstream
successfuly creates a margin and then institutionalizes whatever it took to
make the margin.

For instance, in some groups the "newcomers" need to go through
"initiation" which serves to incorporate people into the group.  Often this
is cloaked under the guise of "you need to learn our process" or "our
traditions" - note this is obviously institutionalizing (creating
structure).  The newcomer feels bad, they won't be heard until they go
through some shit they probably feel is meaningless.  In the most
dysfunctional stagnant groups (fraternities are a good example) the
initiation is actually meaningless, and usually focusses on minimizing the
newcomer.  The military does this, as perhaps some readers can attest by ..
shaving your head, stripping you naked, telling you to shut up, making you
stand up for hours, depriving you of a way to communicate, etc.

After going through this you are no longer a newcomer, you are "in" the
mainstream, plus you have incentive to perpetuate this system, plus you are
a lot less willing to "change things".



Another example is when a group is suddenly flooded with newcomers.
Especially if the newcomers are the sort that identified your group as one
that was doing good work, and had a good reputation, and they would like to
use that credence to further their goals.  This is the sort of thing that
could threaten FNB.  For instance, at one time a group may be all about
"lowering the tax dollars that are spent on the military" and "spending tax
on social needs not weapons" and "telling the government to be about peace
and stop warring on other people or our own people".   If this group is
organized and doing a good job, another group may see that the group is
open to growth and decide to join up, in the process bringing their
assumptions and motives.

So what happens is the "old timers" are perhaps overpowered by the
"newcomers".  If the group is organized simply around majority voting to
make decisions, the newcomers only need to outnumber the oldtimers to
control the process, thereby usurping the resources that the oldtimers
built.  one reason why majority voting sucks.  In a bad way, nations that
are organized like this essentially are encouraging minorites to up their
birth rates to get power - yikes.

On the other hand the group could grow, 'cause it has too, in a way that is
good for the new people and the old people.  This requires communication
and leadership.  Not the kind of leadership that dictates the new policies,
but the kind of leadership that acknowledges what is happening and insists
on airing it out for the better of the group, and does the basic work to
make it OK to have the conversation in the first place.  Often that
leadership may come from one side, but it can also come from both sides or
all sides.

If the group is functioning well enough technically (people can be heard,
people feel safe to express themselves) there is a chance.   Look around
your groups.  Are there people "acting out"? Is it cause they are on the
margin and can't express themselves constructively?  take action.

The margins are an indicator often for something that is unspoken or
something everyone has agreed to ignore.  We've had folks freak out and
leave 'cause we are not dealing with something or tell the person "we've
been down that road and it doesn't work, trust us, we know" that kind of
shit.

so address and embrace the margins, ask the mainstream to consider what the
marginal people are feeling.  In many cases this may require the mainstream
to acknowledge how screwed up they are which also takes care and modelling.
Recognize that we are all on the margin at some point and we can all
relate.

The mainstream loves to try and find out "what's wrong with" the margins.
Turn it around  - what is wrong with the mainstream?  Would the US have a
better time dealing with dictators if US stopped pretending US are
defenders of freedom and acknowledge the murder of the past and present?


ok, enough of that, here is the skill:
Lakey calls it "sociogram"

propose to do a short exercise for the sake of the group.  Stand up and
walk to the center of the room.  Say "this is the center of the group",
invite everyone to stand up and walk around until they "find where they are
in relation to the center"

This allows folks to express their feeling of being on the margin in a
graphic way.  It also forces all those who group in the center to realize
what is going on.  At this point wait for things to settle, and hold some
silence while people look around.  Then act like a reporter.  Visit the
margin people (pretend you are a reporter) and invite them to express "how
they got out here".  If the seem to invite you to ask more questions GO
THERE.  The challenging thing at some point is to say "and what would you
like to tell the rest of the group."

bring it back in.


so where are you in relation to the center of this group?