My Way or the Highway

A few Fridays ago, I was in a class with a group of  8 & 9 year olds. Their regular teacher had planned the following lesson for her pupils:

1. The class was to be divided into groups of four.

2. They were to draw a person together.

3. Each of them should write the name of four body parts in English.

With a clear and unmistakable message from the teacher: “The task has to be carried out carefully, including the colouring, if they want to colour.”

The task combined several elements. They were to learn English through creative collaboration. They had to use their emotional intelligence through collaboration. As adults, we’ve all experienced emotional intelligence’s role in participation, haven’t we? “What a wonderful assignment. Perfect for someone like me with an above-average interest in depth psychology,” I thought. I may have overanalyzed it, but I loved that simple assignment and walking around, observing and contributing when needed.

“Which gender should they be?” became one of the main questions in the mixed groups–groups that consisted of both boys and girls.

One group drew a person. Half of it was a boy and the other half a girl. But the boys got too eager when they finished the drawing and were about to start colouring. They forgot completely how they were supposed to perform the task.

“Do they want to get done with it as quickly as possible, or do they dislike the coloring part or is it both?” I wondered. It all ended with the two boys having to cut off their half, redraw it, and then tape it back onto the girl. The result was a different drawing. This time they  coloured more thoughtfully. Perhaps it wasn’t so fun to repeat the whole process.  Another group differentiated the sexes through their clothes—one half dressed as a girl and the other as a boy. A third group was unable to reach an agreement. Although, one of the group participants tried hard to resolve the disagreement.

“What if we draw a person who is both?” “What are they called again?” he asked me. “They?” I answered, wondering if I had answered correctly. This group spent lots of time discussing. One of those girls, in particular, wanted it her way or the highway.

As I walked around and observed the various groups, I considered my collaborative projects at work and in my private life over the years. It helped me remember when I discovered my anxiety about groups. It was during a writing project with a group of international women. Every time we were supposed to meet, I was assaulted by inexplicable anxiety. For a period, I considered withdrawing and went into the thinking box. But after a few rounds with myself, I chose to stay in. I preferred to  face the fear rather than withdraw. But eventually, large parts of the group disbanded, and why? What happens within groups when collaboration and communication problems start at different levels without a constructive solution?

Cooperation has been and is a necessity in our lives as humans.

  • Through cooperation, we create, develop and move the wheels of society forward. But what is the basis of our choices in a collaborative process?
  • Is it because we have to?
  • Do we cooperate because we have our own interests in mind?
  • Do we contribute in a group context because we have  focussed on wholeness? Have we come so far in human development that we have the whole picture in focus?
  • Are we aware of how our choices affect everyone around us on a micro and macro level?

Humans are social animals and would do anything to be part of the larger herd. Groups can create together, but they can also be destructive. Time and time again, history has shown the nasty side of people coming together in groups. You only have to study history to learn about the mass suggestion that has occurred and continues to occur in group contexts.

  • What happened during World War II with Hitler at the helm?
  • What happened to the Iranian Revolution? And which forces took control of the course?
  • What did Pinochet do in Chile, and how did he manage that?
  • Do we humans become hypnotized in groups? Or does group affiliation allow us to unleash our shadow sides without being responsible for our actions?

Where is the individual responsibility in a group context? What happens to our critical voice in groups? The German film Das Experiment from 2001 perfectly depicts the problem I am trying to address. Being part of a group can be a colourful experience, but it can also take dark turns. One thing is certain, belonging to a group gives us a unique opportunity to get to know ourselves. Who am I in the eternal dance created in a group, who do I want to be, and what role do I want to play? That is why the task in class was so gratifying to observe. It again made me wonder the following questions; will humans ever get so far in our development that we see how connected we are to each other? So that we can collaborate from a completely different place than we do today? Maybe I am just a romantic, idealistic fool. What are your thoughts on the matter? 

You can also visit my website and book an online coaching, sound, or body movement therapy session with me. If you have any questions about my services, please do not hesitate to email me. And I promise you; I will not spam your inbox with endless emails. 


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