Group dynamics are fascinating to me.  Just a few days ago I was having a conversation about various friends and their experiences with organized religion.  I know a few who entered what could be considered a monastic life, moving into a community geared towards a specific kind of spirituality, removing themselves from a mainstream lifestyle, living with rules and practices geared to elevate the spirit and remove them from the negative influences of normal life.

However, the stories all have a similar theme.  The people left the community not because they changed their mind, found that their needs had changed, or that if was all bunk, but because of the group dynamics.  Spiritual or not spiritual, human beings are by definition human.  And none of them have just one issue to work through that can get resolved and then they are healed and perfect and can live a blameless life forever more.  So each works through something and then finds another thing and works through that, wash/rinse/repeat.  And in a group everyone is doing it, not synchronously, so that a community is always working through something, sometimes dramatically, and there is always some drama or infraction or something drawing attention somewhere.  Which is the case for all groups, but in the case of an enclosed community is concentrated sometimes to the point of absurdity.

It’s the constant drama, not the religion, the practical application of spirituality not the theory, that caused people to remove themselves from the community they had entered.  I have experienced this myself in spiritual community as well as in secular and what I end up focusing on is the damage caused by the stories in our heads.  We can usually all agree on the main reasons we are in the group, salary, common cause, spiritual path, etc.  It’s the day-to-day doing of things that causes the problems.  Because people are driven to find meaning out of their experiences and the world around them in order to navigate chaos.  But, in most cases they do so badly and without the necessary skills or information. They make up stories in their head.

Someone at work says something, does something, doesn’t do something or doesn’t respond in a certain way and their colleagues start trying to make meaning out of it.  They start thinking to themselves, then asking other colleagues, then forming meaning and all of a sudden there is meaning–a story– where none existed before.  Now there are a million reasons why the colleagues wouldn’t just ask the person why and some of them are relevant.  Most aren’t.  And so stories get created, most of them are lucky if they contain a small portion of truth, but those ‘in the know’ about the story have created additional connection and community for themselves while pushing their colleague out of community without their even knowing about it.  And tomorrow it will happen again to another colleague and another and another.

It sometimes boggles my mind to think of all the energy that people spend every single day making up these stories in their head, then acting on the stories or reacting to someone else’s story and never finding out what is true.  Just think of the power to create that is being wasted in making up stories that are hurtful and relatively useless.  It takes just as much energy to find a courteous, non-embarrassing, non-invasive way to ask for the information you really want, which is ‘why?’.  Why are you in a mood?  Why did you choose that over this?  Why did you not see the consequences of that?  But asking allows the truth or the truth of the moment to come out.  No need for making up stories when the real one will do.  And with the speaking of that story a solid foundation for positive connectivity can be formed.  Through courage and honesty and vulnerability good relationships can form.  It’s not a magic bullet, it’s not without its risks or without failure, but it seems like such a better use of our time than listening to the stories in our head.