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I've belonged to many groups over the years -- musical groups of all stripes (some church music, some community groups), knitting groups, volunteer groups. I've worked in schools and churches, and know the struggle of workplace conflict. You'd think that once you stopped working, and were staying home peacefully, the petty, mean-spirited, nasty conflict that characterizes some groups of humans could be avoided.
I'm not gonna give details. I'm more interested in hashing out the dynamics of how people act. Say ... you have a group of people in a secular (not church) context. They are volunteers, and they all feel a certain ownership of the group, the common work and goals. But they're also sharply individuals, and the casual atmosphere of this organization makes good communication non-existent. In fact, it can only barely be called an organization because there's not much organizing going on, for many years. Like I said, it's casual, volunteer.
Somewhere along the line a few personalities butt heads, hurt feelings result, and under the veneer of good-will, animosity stews. People grumble; people pick sides. At some unfortunate point, the bubble bursts, the vitriol spits out, and everything hits the fan. People say unfortunate things, and worse, they make unfortunate assumptions.
Here's what I've noticed in the online communication that finally developed and exploded over the weekend. Someone reprimands those on the "other side" for being petty, junior-high-girlish, ridiculous, and recommends that everyone calm down and act respectfully. In the next sentence that person proceeds to slice-and-dice his opponents in as mean a spirit as he was just condemning. It's a vicious cycle of attack.
On top of that, people respond very differently to almost-public conflict like this. Some people handle it rather well, are invigorated by the debate and find it helpful. At the other extreme are those who find the flying emails highly stressful and offensive. You have a few of each type on each side of the debate! Also ... some people leap into the debate early on, say their piece, and bow out after a few lashings. Other people wait, wait, steam and wait, and later launch in with a long response to all the muck already thrown around.
It's really awful, isn't it? Have any of you ever been in such a situation? Here are my questions: 1) Did you participate or remain silently on the sidelines? 2) Did you opt to remain in the group or not? 3) Why or why not? 4) Do you feel that such online/email/forum exchanges are ever helpful in any way, or are they always, ALWAYS a bad idea?
I don't know the answer to those questions. Sometimes it's not easy to get out of such a group of hot-heads. Sometimes the hot-head is you, or me. I'm rumbling around various ideas in my head, about how to avoid the extreme stress such situations produce in me. My first instinct is QUIT. Perhaps that's a good instinct. But things are rarely cut-and-dried, and there are downsides to quitting as well.
Humans are a mystery to me. Over the years I've watched some people determine not to be contentious in this way. (It's hard.) Churches and ministries are destroyed by it. Marriages also. Parent/child relationships ruined. Jobs are lost. We all know this, and we train ourselves in self-control over the years, to avoid these disasters. But then, we find ourselves in a small group of seemingly-amiable neighbors, working with strangers doing something small, and the old monster rears its head. When a job, or family relationships, or spiritual connections aren't there to remind us to be careful, we revert to the nasty inclination that's in all of us -- Grump, Take Offense, Attack. Why? Why do rational heads not rule? Why do people refuse to listen to reasonable explanations? Why does everyone think he knows everything?
Got that off my chest! If you have input, please reply. I need all the encouragement I can get.