Most of the time people in any group have one of two ways of looking at themselves and the world around them. How they look oftentimes has a profound effect on their future and the future of the group. It makes little difference whether the group is a club, a political party, a company or a church. The way all groups operate and how they view themselves are pretty similar.
One way we, as members of a group, look at ourselves and the world is by looking in. When we look in we tend to look at ourselves and the other people in the group as being mostly “OK.” No one likes to admit that any faults in the group, any shortcomings it may have, any failure to grow and expand might lie in himself and the others in the group.
It’s a lot easier to say things like, “It’s just that the world is changing,” “People don’t understand what we mean,” or “We can’t be something we aren’t.”
That reminds me of something I read about a political party about 20 years ago who said they would have to keep their basic principles the same but just change how they presented them. Someone in the party reminded them that a pizza shop would not sell more pizza just by changing the box it came in.
If people don’t buy your pizza maybe it is because there is something wrong with the product, and maybe if your group is not growing maybe it’s because of how the group sees itself.
Is the world changing? Of course it is. The world has been changing ever since the first cave men discovered they could cook meat over a fire, or that they could lift heavy rocks with a lever.
Nobody’s world is the same as it was yesterday, and tomorrow it will be different than it is today. A professor once pointed out that the only constant in the world is change.
“People don’t understand what we mean?” That is probably true in just about any circumstance, but whose fault is it if they don’t understand? When I say something, when I do something, I have no control over how others will understand it. If someone does not understand what I say it is not their fault, it is mine.
It is my responsibility to say things in ways (that’s wayS, not just one way) that make sure people will understand what it is I mean. I used to teach teenagers to be better public speakers and part of that is to look at the people in the audience, whether that audience is two or 20 or 200. If they look puzzled it is the speaker’s obligation to say things in another way.
In a group we have to say and do things that make sure others do understand what we mean.
The other way we can look at ourselves and our group is by looking outward. That is, if our group is not being successful we should stop blaming others, the changing world or how others see us, and start looking to see what we are doing that is getting in the way.
Let’s take a hypothetical situation. This is not intended to represent any one group or any one situation, but just take a moment and see if it applies to you or a group you are in.
Suppose a club has been organized to make the town more hospitable to monkeys.
Their goal is to create an environment that will make monkeys feel at home and want to stay. But after putting out a call for volunteers to help build a better monkey house no one shows up. It has been my experience that putting out a call for volunteers almost guarantees that no one will show up.
Any group that thinks it will succeed by putting out a call for volunteers is almost sure to fall short. Too many folks have seen that if and when they do volunteer they will be met by the “established” members who may not want anyone else to bring help, especially if that “help” suggests new ways of doing things.
How often have you heard, “Well, this is what we’ve always done,” or “This has always worked in the past so there’s no reason to change.”
Those are two more ways that people judge their group by looking inward, two more ways that just about guarantee the group will not survive let alone grow.
And of course some folks would rather not grow, not advance, not make any progress.
“Things are just fine as they are, we don’t need to get any better or bigger.”
I can well imagine the men in the Whig Party, people in the Shaker Church, the leader of the Passenger Pigeons saying things like that. One thing I have observed over the past 72 years is that there is no such thing as staying where we are. We either move forward or we go back.
If a group will recognize that its existence depends on growing, on keeping its current members active, on not losing its place in the world, those members will have to stop looking inward and blaming everyone but themselves for their loss. If they can look outward they have a much better chance of being successful.