Thursday, March 27, 2014

Group Works: Celebrate

This entry continues a series in which I'm exploring concepts encapsulated in a set of 91 cards called Group Works, developed by Tree Bressen, Dave Pollard, and Sue Woehrlin. The deck represents "A Pattern Language for Bringing Life to Meetings and Other Gatherings."

In each blog, I'll examine a single card and what that elicits in me as a professional who works in the field of cooperative group dynamics. My intention in this series is to share what each pattern means to me. I am not suggesting a different ordering or different patterns—I will simply reflect on what the Group Works folks have put together.

The cards have been organized into nine groupings, and I'll tackle them in the order presented in the manual that accompanies the deck:

1. Intention
2. Context
3. Relationship
4. Flow
5. Creativity
6. Perspective
7. Modeling
8. Inquiry & Synthesis
9. Faith

In the Relationship segment there are 10 cards. The fourth pattern in this segment is labeled Celebrate. Here is the image and text from that card: 

With joy and zest, publicly celebrate milestones and recurring events. Affirming shared history, we nourish community, crystallize a sense of accomplishment, and build group identity by unifying our stories and common goals. Can be planned and ritualized, or as spontaneous as a group cheer.

There's an old joke about why fundamentalist Christians don't make love standing up—because it might lead to dancing. 
The humor in this runs deeper than lampooning moral rectitude in the Bible Belt; it's rooted in the knowledge that we, as a culture, are embarrassingly subdued and afraid of passion. Not certain that we can safely distinguish between aggression and ebullience, we put the lid on both.

To be fair, it's not hard to understand how this happens. We all have first-hand experiences of feeling beaten up by someone lashing out in fear or anger, and it makes perfect sense how people (and by extension, groups) could be highly motivated to protect themselves from being subjected to repeat performances. That said, disapproving—or worse, pathologizing—emotional expression of all stripes ("Please, show some respect and control") is a spectacularly poor response to the challenge of understanding and working effectively with distress. 

Wait (you may be saying). How did we start with a pattern about celebration and get into a conversation about emotional distress? Answer: because the two are inextricably linked.

While the image above is in the range of balloons and whistles, there is a darker side of emotional response and you can't reasonably open up to the sunshine without expecting rain clouds from time to time. One of the reasons that groups tend to be a little stilted about celebration is because they're so tentative and unsure of their footing when it comes to distress. It rings hollow asking groups to cheer when there's an unwritten rule against crying or yelling.

There's a famous quip from Emma Goldman that applies here:
If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution.

The essence of this speaks to my point. Revolution is serious business, which Emma knew. She also knew that you need to bring your whole self to the attempt. Revolution is not just a state of mind ("Today, I think I'll care more about the environment."). It's an all-in commitment. Yet passion that's all channeled into anger and grim determination is exhausting, out of balance, and unsustainable.

There also needs to be some fun and goofiness, which brings us back to today's pattern. Sometimes you need to jump for joy, and sing hallelujah! This is not about pretending that bad things don't happen; it's about genuinely recognizing the good things that do, and not letting the pain and suffering of the world—which are very real things—stop you from being fully human and connecting with others in our effort to make a positive difference.

So if you want the baby (celebration) be aware that they can get messy from time to time and the bath water of emotions, in their full range of expression, comes with the deal.

Care to dance?

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