Reaching Makes a Bridge
With the end of the academic year, I’ve been thinking a lot about groups. Classrooms, mom’s groups, political organizations, workplaces, committees…. (to name a few). Some groups work well. There is a positive, respectful dynamic between individuals, which allows space for everyone to have a voice. They reach out, they include, they embrace. They seek input and value learning from others experiences. I work with some fellow teachers who are masterful at creating equitable classroom environments.
Some groups don’t work well. There is an imbalance of power in which some individuals are more powerful, stronger and more self-absorbed than others within the construct. They believe they understand more than they actually do. These groups are exclusionary, insular, and suspicious. When problems erupt, dysfunctional groups lash out, and choose judgement over mercy. Groups like this are plentiful on the NEPR news hour, and evident on FOX News. My husband is a long-time educator, and I once taught a difficult group of children with whom I felt I could not connect, no matter what I tried. He wisely advised me to stop seeing them as a “difficult group,” and see them as unique individuals. He was right. The group was difficult, most of the individuals were not.
Webster defines group dynamics as “the interactions that influence the attitudes and behavior of people when they are grouped with others through either choice or accidental circumstances.” Unlike Webster, I think that attitudes influence interactions. According to Dr. Kelly Campbell in an article she contributed to Psychology Today, “Feeling understood is essential to forming relational bonds.” Without understanding, new relational bonds cannot be formed, and broken relational bonds cannot be mended. Groups are affected. But instead of hastily racing to empathize with others, and “solve” a problem, individuals should first self-reflect.
There is a communication model which was developed in the 1950’s called the Johari Window. In the window there are four panes. In one pane are the words we use to describe ourselves. In another pane are the words others would use to describe us. In the third pane are the words which we chose about ourselves which surprise others, and the last pane is open- a window pane for future growth. The exercise of the Johari window helps us see ourselves more wholly; All of the adjectives are true. A good friend or two are happy to help with this–especially on a warm summer night, sangria in hand.
When my oldest son was little, I’d always encourage him to say “I’m Sam. Wanna play?” when he was in the presence of kids he didn’t know. It was a way to open the door to whatever positive mojo could follow. It was about being brave, saying who he was, and inviting someone new to draw near. Maybe this summer is the one when you will extend your hand to someone you don’t know or understand and invite them to draw near. It is the only way.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sarah Mattison Buhl
As a mother of three, Sarah appreciates the extraordinary beauty of the ordinary. She makes her home with her family in Northampton, MA.