Personal Experiences in Culture Change and Group Dynamics

A bit of background:

I have recently had a falling out with a very socially powerful person in a larger community of people that I had been growing very close with. The situation that triggered falling out was centered around some very deep core beliefs I have about ethics and human interaction as well as the importance of language’s role in limiting the amount of growth and development one is capable of making. It also centered around some very powerful fears that I have that – in certain kinds of circumstances – literally render me speechless and remove huge swaths of agency from me. The responses the other person had hit yet more deep seated fears that have brought my halting forays into social interaction to a grinding halt. Below is part of my processing of this situation and figuring out where I want to go from here.


 

 

I don’t know that I will feel safe again. The following are the only current ways I see myself feeling safe enough in this group to return. I am always open to other ideas, and am keeping my eyes open for inspiration.

 

  1. The person I’m in conflict with feels sustainably safe from me, and/or they go through a change in how they react to people they perceive as threatening. Because,
    • I have been on the receiving end of how they react to feeling threatened, and
      • I do not feel safe around that kind of behavior. I tried. But, as I learned the Tuesday rehearsal after our conversations, I am still utterly terrified when I am (even just socially) around people who have no qualms about responding in those ways and are also antagonistic towards me. To the point where I am really not functional for days afterwards.
      • I don’t have the skillset to defend or protect myself against that kind of behavior in ways that I consider both kind and ethical – and those are both mandatory for me. I have, will, and will continue to remove myself from social groups that put me in the position where my current skillset requires me to choose between safety or my ethics. No matter how wonderful and amazing the people and relationships in the group are. I will continue to interact with the individuals and mourn the loss of the group that sustains and values them and that I had hoped to also build a future with. I will mourn the potential that I saw and the things I wanted to grow with this group, and the lives I might have touched and been touched by but may never meet now. But,
        1. I will not go against my ethics to remain safely in this group.
          • I do recognize that this is hitting a deeper sense of morality in me, and I am learning more about the particular flavor of ethics that I seem to be aligning myself with, so that I can become more aware of any contradictions and objections to this value set and make more informed decisions regarding those.
          • I have also started gathering materials and resources in order to more systematically investigate the behaviors I am taking in support of those ethics and their likely effectiveness. Once this investigation is done, I will have a better understanding of the limits of those behaviors, and can add or subtract elements based on how well they support my ethical goals.
        2. I will not do damage to myself, the rest of my life, and the people and relationships in it I have also built things with to remain in the group unsafely. Because that is not respectful to myself or them either.
    • I don’t want to have to spend all my time making sure this person doesn’t see me as a threat.
      • I don’t know if that is even possible or likely any time soon. Over the course of this conflict, I have tried to the best of my ability to openly share and foster understanding on their part as to where I am coming from, what my intentions are, and why I have made the choices I did. I am coming to recognize some of the mistakes I made in applying those communication skills, and I recognize that there were a lot – especially from a hindsight viewpoint. But I’m not confident that I know, understand, or am practiced enough to prevent similar kinds of mistakes from happening again, much less to identify what other kinds of mistakes then become more likely when I do make those improvements. That said,
      • If it did seem to happen, I could probably be convinced to try. It’d be very scary, so I would have to make sure the rest of my life is set up so that those other parts can maintain with minimal-to-no amounts of input from me for the course of the attempt. And it will probably be a longer more gradual attempt, because if these are the circumstances under which I return it will take a while to reach even the level of comfort I had within the first month of joining, much less to get to the level of comfort I had reached prior to all of this going sideways.
  2. I get the skills to be able to protect at least myself (and possibly my immediate family as well – though I think I am the weakest link there) from this kind of behavior and the effects it has on my psyche.
    • I am in the midst of setting up things (using the time that I had previously spent at rehearsals and board meetings, and then some) aimed at pursuing these skills on multiple fronts
      1. I am setting up another round of skills-based therapy to more fully and quickly install some self-care habits that I had been slowly incorporating into my life before.
        • So that I can get feedback and guidance as I expose myself to things that I am afraid of in order to engage in the activities necessary to build the social and communication skills.
        • And also so that my self-care habits will become more practiced and require less bandwidth and be able to weather progressively more difficult life circumstances.
      2. I am trying to spend more time in a couple of different social groups that are focused around physical interaction. The purpose of these are twofold:
        1. doing exposure therapy towards physical touch with a flirtatious or sexual undertone and being able to navigate and communicate and negotiate and build a connection that feels safe and good for everyone without slipping into bunny/deer headspace.
        2. reinforcing my (currently very fragile) belief that people can interact safely and in respectful ways towards each other and their boundaries. Especially when there is physical touch and the possibility of a sexual element to the interaction. And that loud, strident, angry, forceful, violence-alluding-possibly-sliding-into-violent-self-defense OR complete avoidance of one or both are not the only options available to people who want to interact with others in those arenas. And,
      3. I have gamified the social skills development portion. I have joined an actual RPG that is built on the ways people socially interact with each other – a social LARP as opposed to a boffer LARP. It is with a group of people who do not live in the same town as me, and that I have no ties to outside of this game. I intend this to provide me with:
        • a low stakes environment to – again – engage in some exposure therapy regarding larger social groups and the ways that people move in and respond to those dynamics, and
        • practice building the actual skills of communication with people who are coming from a different world-view than I am. Again in a low-stakes environment. (And there are a ton of skills in this arena – I’m at baby level when it comes to large-group dynamics and communication.)
    • I am hoping these pan out. I honestly don’t know how long it will take to get these skills to a level where I could manage myself in the kind of situation that happened. It’s really hard to learn when you’re terrified. And, as much as I had thought and really wanted that to not be the way I react to stuff like this anymore, that’s how I have felt.
  3. There is a culture shift in the choir.
    • I think there are a couple of different elements to this shift.
      1. One seems to revolve around this idea of a binary foundation to the word/thinking that I have heard echoed repeatedly.
        • Because a world that works on this idea of either/or doesn’t have space for me or my experiences in it. And people / groups who work inside that world view have a really hard time seeing/hearing/understanding what I say – even when I use words that we all think are easy to comprehend.
        • And it’s hard to feel safe when you don’t feel seen. No matter how good intentioned the people are in that space – if they can’t see you, if they can’t hear your cries, how can they tell they are hurting you? How can they know what it was and why it had that effect? How can they figure out what ways to act in a kinder fashion if they don’t understand what is and isn’t kind to you?
      2. The other is very much tied to shame and judgement and guilt. It’s tied to the fact that it can be really really hard to separate behavior from people. And that it is sometimes hard for folks to even see why it could be good to do so.
        • It’s very much an attempt to create a community space based on the principles of Brene Brown’s theories. I have found that incorporating these things into my life has been nothing less than transformative, and I want that option to be more visible and available to other people.
        • I also think this is going to be a necessary element to incorporate in order to effectively get many people to be willing to even engage with the idea of to think less in terms of either/or. It’s a key element to fostering growth mindset, and without that I think people tend to wait until huge tragedies happen before they’re willing to consider change.*
    • Honestly, this is a lot of what I had hoped to build and offer up to the choir/community as an option.
      • I see a lot of benefits from the kinds of things that I’m talking about. I also know it is (in some ways) very different than what a lot of folks are used to.
      • At the same time I have also seen what looks like a lot of desire for the kinds of things this offers, and it truly does seem to me to fit what I understand about the community’s underlying values and purpose and goals and the reason the choir was formed and maintained in the way that it has been.
    • I have worries about this one happening, too. Because I don’t see this as a thing that can be done quickly.
      • I know that things like culture change (even if it is a change to something that people are likely to – at least abstractly – get behind) have to be introduced gradually and in safe ways.
      • I know that people need to be able to take the time to look at it and decide whether they want that for themselves or not.
        • And that they then need to learn and absorb and really understand what is changing and why.
        • And then they need time to start incorporating that. To phase out old habits of response and build new ones, and to negotiate how they personally will handle differences between this culture and the other ones they interact with outside of this space.
      • That said, if I do find there is interest, of course I am going to feel motivated to support that. So… we’ll see how that goes.

 

In a lot of ways, what has gone down has been something of a perfect storm. And as such, it is a really unique opportunity as well. And I want to more than survive – I want to thrive. And to me, that definitely means not giving up on this community and the people in it – even if that does require taking the really long game to do so. **

*I would like to spend more time breaking this part down in another post.  Right now, all I have is the idea that:

if the majority of a binary-thinking person’s their prior experiences with this worldview have left them confused and/or feeling like they hurt someone, and they also have a tendancy towards using behavior as an indicator of inherent, fixed traits, I see them either saying “I want to do that / live in that world, but every time I’ve tried to do that I’ve failed so I guess I just can’t” or “I don’t have anything positive associated with those people so why would I want to become one?”

**Yet more doubts that I will need to explore later, that have popped up as I have written this:

and now I’m feeling like a failure again. was I brought here for this person? is this my one chance? is this a codependent/ counter transference thing? is my purpose here more them than the group itself/my personal skill building? god, so codependent. but they would be a huge asset/ally…. but – perfect storm… ahhhh…. I plan to come back with more skills and savvy but they will also be more guarded and are already way above me in skills, and also they may leave at any point when it no longer gives them what they’re getting out of it… ahhhhh…..how do I tell if this is a now-or-never kind of situation????? and once I can tell, is this even the best set of questions to be asking, whether it is or not??

 

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