One evening last month I attended a Chamber of Commerce membership meeting. We shuffled in as singles, twos and threes, signed in, and wrote our names on sticky labels with a thick black Sharpie. Two of the Directors greeted us and graciously offered us wine, water, and several platters of appetizers. It was the end of a warm work day and we were a tired-looking lot.
Twenty-some folding chairs had been set up in four rows that faced a white projector screen and a laptop on a small portable table. We awaited the guest speaker who had been scheduled to give us a presentation on the Chamber’s membership management system. As a new member, I thought it my good fortune that this presentation had been scheduled and hoped to learn how to use the system.
After twenty minutes of milling around and small talk someone queued the presentation to start and we all sat down in the rows of folding chairs.
The speaker was an affable gentleman. He told us how much he loved the product and that the management system would work for us. I quickly got overwhelmed with the technical nomenclature and lost my concentration on what the speaker was saying. Intruding thoughts rushed in. I looked around at other audience members. Everyone seemed focused on the speaker. I wondered what they were thinking. Were they comprehending the presentation points? I looked for evidence and noticed a few heads nodding. Was this just the polite public nod or genuine agreement? I heard my inner critic whisper that maybe I was just stupid.
Robert Firestone references Freud’s work to explain “how people dispose of their opinions and independence when they join groups.”[i] Had we disposed our opinions and independence when we entered the membership meeting room? Why was no one asking for clarification? Why was no one sharing their experience of using, or not being able to use, the system? Did Freud’s theory explain the lackluster energy in the room that I was feeling, or was everyone simply tired?
Long ago, I served as a full-time trainer for the state and I remember one occasion when a participant arrived at the training room and declared wanting to be “taught”. He made it pretty clear that he had no desire to do much work of his own in the training session. This contradicted my training style and struck me as a pretty boring way to spend a day. Oh well, I thought, and prepared myself for a low score on at least one evaluation at the end of the day.
Maybe disposing of our opinions and independence in groups offers us a break from the rigors of life. But it also has a detrimental effect on our work and our relationships.
My hope is that we as group members disprove Freud’s theory. That we do not lose ourselves when we join a group. It may take a little work to avoid succumbing to the temptation to take a break. The first step is self-awareness, noticing when we’ve removed ourselves from the driver’s seat and turned the wheel over to a group leader. One principle of the Technology of Participation (ToP®) espouses everyone’s wisdom as needed for the wisest result. Let us not withhold our individual wisdom in groups. Let us be brave and share our opinions.
Yes, I remain convicted of not following my own advice and remaining silent and confused in the Chamber meeting. But there’s always a next time!
[i]The Fantasy Bond: Structure of Psychological Defenses, Robert W. Firestone, PhD., 1987, p. 270.