Welcome to the next phase of this blog: 12 months in the theme of "just peace." An recent incident in my life relates the issue of maintaining peaceful relationships, so I will share and discuss it in this, the first entry of the "Just peace" blog.
Keeping the peace within groups, whatever their basis for forming, can be difficult. Sometimes an accepted leader emerges who can get things done on their behalf, or who can smooth out ruffles and facilitate resolutions to conflicts. I recently read an article explaining that those are the two basic kinds of leadership styles that sociologists have been able to identify through ample research. They label the former "instrumental" leaders and the latter "expressive." Instrumental leaders may not be liked personally and may not take care of people's feelings but they succeed in accomplishing the group's goals, so earn respect. They suit the kinds of groups where personal feelings are not as important to the group. Expressive leaders, on the other hand, maintain a positive group atmosphere and work to repair ruptures among group members, irrespective of the group's main purpose. They suit groups such as social organizations wherein members value their experience as a group more than the tasks and goals of the group, unless the goal is to be friends and share experiences together.
I am in a kind of community group that serves social and political purpose. There seems to be an ongoing divide among members who value the experience of membership over and above the service that the group renders to the community, and those who are more focused on the business of the group. The latter want more structure and are more concerned about maintaining order than the former. I think that ruptures occur sometimes because their are these two conflicting sets of concepts and values.
The group I'm talking about has about 70 members. It is a social-political choir that sings for causes and political principles. As such, it has community and political meaning, and attracts concerned citizens wanting to take some kind of action, or share in communicating a political stance. It thus has deep meaning for many of the members. Members give up a lot of time to rehearse, run things and go to gigs. The relationships among the members are valued at least by many, who see that they have some beliefs in common, and feel a kind of comradeship being involved.
There is sometimes friction between the "instrumentalists" in the group and others who value the feeling about being in the group more than the tasks. Here is an example of what can happen. The instrumentalist types like to cite rules and stick to a well-defined, predictable order. Actually, there are committees that work out policies and procedures, which are by and large helpful to managing a large group. Regardless, we are still an informal collective without officers, a constitution and by-laws. The "expressives" in the group prefer some flexibility and like to put people first. Therefore, insisting on rules ruffles the expressives. They have a looser concept of the organization, apparently. They can feel snubbed or stifled when committee representatives or other individuals bluntly assert the procedures and policies, whatever the context.
We have a rule about speaking about events during the announcements portion of our rehearsal sessions.Policies guide us to restrict the topics and events raised. Therefore, subjects such as gig coordination, new materials, group finances and such are allowed. This practice means that it is the same committee reps speaking each time, and mentions of other singing activities and cultural events, social and political interest topics, etc. are barred. Individual interaction can go on before and after and in between meetings and rehearsals, but conversations among the whole group, or those present at events, are obstructed. The practice does not get evenly applied, however, as committee members tend to take ownership of the organization and allow themselves to bend the policies and practice. They might announce other things, which tend to be about themselves, their families or friends. If someone else takes such liberty, however, they are often coolly halted and put in their place: "We have a policy against X!"
I and two others got shot down last weekend when their was pause in the informal announcements and one of us started to fill the gaps with related but not exactly choir business. I was the last to speak, and it was to invite ALL to my winter festivity open house. My invitation was to the whole choir, and it was a gesture to include them and an opportunity to work on membership relations. The atmosphere suddenly froze. I was steaming mad and left the rehearsal early. I felt angry all week. The person who cut me off did not seem to understand how offensive the snub was, even after I told her, in private, quite specifically how I felt.
I should point out that this singing group has existed for 17 years and some of the original members are still around. In view of that length of involvement, and given the social and political commitment, many who have served for a long time feel a bond. They have made a heavy political choice, which is also a personal choice about what to do with their time and where, when and how to participate in political affairs of the community and region. It has deep meaning.
In the end, I turned up for the last rehearsal of the year. We had a meeting following the practice about gig coordination, where committee speakers were careful to repeatedly say that everyone is valued for their contribution, whatever and however much they contribute. People took turns and solutions to concerns of the membership were responded with suggestions for change. The one who had snubbed me apologized, though not adequately, to my mind. The ambiance was good. It picked up even more later that afternoon at our winter social gathering. Privately, I heard that my reaction and my frank response over email to the admin was welcome. I was assured that others have felt snubbed and uncomfortable before, which has turned some off and discouraged them. Let's hope it goes better in the new year.