Thinking Well of the Group
A concept shared with me by a Quaker, I wish I had a dictionary where
I could look up “Thinking Well of the Group” and a succinct
explanation would appear. One that would not require rewriting fifty
years of psychology. But I don’t have such a dictionary.
Thinking Well of the Group begins as simply as Choice. If you choose
to be in a group or community, you choose it because
you think well of it. If you chose to be in Diana’s Grove Mystery
School, I assume that you assume that what happens here is done by well-meaning
people who are committed to personal growth, empowerment, spiritual development
and building a healthy, respectful relationship with
you. I can only assume this if I believe that you are all here due to
your own choice.
At times, you may have an experience that is not empowering, that is
not healthy and respectful. When that happens, if you
think well of the group, you can say, “Wow, that was off. What happened there?” And
the person who hurt you or disappointed you can answer you.
Each of us comes into a group with a history. We have experiences of
exclusion, of not fitting in, of being hurt by hierarchical
structures. We have all been discounted, unheard, and unseen. At times
we have been seen and still were rejected or excluded. And we are fairly
sophisticated people with psychological savvy. We can assign motivation
to an action, we can diagnose the actor. “That was a power play.” “She
is just so insecure.”
We are smart enough to look for the undercurrent in a group. We can
find the dynamic. Who is in power? What does the group really want from
you? What do you need to know or say to fit in? Who gets the best bed
and how did they get it?
Everything isn’t really all peace and harmony, and if it is,
what will happen if you disagree? What will you do if you just don’t
like someone? What will happen if someone doesn’t like you? What
if you’re too friendly and someone thinks your attempt to connect
is a sexual violation? What if you are too self-contained and everyone
thinks you are unfriendly? What if you ask the wrong question and everyone
thinks you are dumb? What if you have the answer and the group thinks
you are arrogant? How can you really be safe in a new group? Don’t
trust the surface or the obvious. Watch for clues.
Discover the feelings beneath the surface. Become highly sensitive to
subtle indications of rejection, of inclusion, of boundaries and expectations.
And the minute that your old dis-empowering patterns appear, then you
will know the truth. Then you will know what this group is really like.
I am going to bring my Guide to Good Groups. I will reference
it when I am safe in my car. Were the chairs in a circle
or a row? Did they recycle? What about compost? What about that group
that meets in the cabin before the weekend begins? Is that hierarchy
or what? Someone cast the circle and it wasn’t me; there must be an “in” group.
I was asked to call a direction...well - it was more
like I was told to - is that empowerment? Thinking well of the group
- is that just a fancy way to mandate denial?
But what if... What if...
What if this group is committed to personal growth, to the good of
all, and to respect for each other? People in the group
have relationships with each other. They have personal comforts and discomforts.
Some will be comfortable with me and others won’t be. What if all
of the interactions that I see between people are individual? Some are
perfectly appropriate for me to join and others have nothing to do with
me and may have nothing to do with the group at all.
What if everyone were struggling with the same issues - inclusion,
personal comfort, self-expression and connection? What
if we all are doing the best that we can and at times, folks aren’t
going to act or react in the way that best meets my needs?
Choice. I choose to be here. I choose to be with these people and I
choose to think well of them. If someone or something hurts me, I will
express my discomfort and hear the response. And if something I do causes
discomfort, I am willing to hear about my actions as a statement about
my actions, rather than about me.
Thinking well of the group. I had a dog named Ginger. She was only
14 inches high and weighed about 20 pounds. She was a small King Charles
Cavalier Spaniel. Ginger was timid and shy, an introvert by nature. She
was very much her own dog. She met the world on her own terms, she was
timid but not intimidated. Ginger was my mentor for almost 13 years.
She thought well of the group.
The world was her group. Everywhere she went, she assumed that people
would like her and that they would interact with her
with kindness. She wasn’t always right but she was right often enough. I am much taller
and heavier than Ginger and thinking well of the group is a new concept
for me. I know better than to expect people to be well-intended. I am
more intelligent than a dog. During the time we spent together, I knew
things about people that Ginger did not know. I didn’t assume that
people would like me; I didn’t expect kindness.
Ginger was right about 80% of the time. I was wrong about 80% of the
time. Ginger was surprised by the small amount of hostility she found
in the world. I was surprised far more often by the large amount of kindness.
Ginger was indifferent to indifference. I spent a great deal of time
ruminating over indifference. Ginger and I - we shared a world but not
And now, year’s after her death, I offer Ginger’s view
of humanity as a cornerstone for a healthy community. Think well of each
other. At least choose to review an experience with the possibility that
we have come together with the intention of mutual benefit, and that
we are all wanting to form empowering, authentic relationships. I don’t
deny, and neither would Ginger, that we make mistakes. And, at times,
the choices that others make may disappoint me or not fulfill my desires.
There may even be people who don’t like me and who I don’t
like - but that doesn’t take away from the essential goodness of
either of us, or from the worth of the group.
leave this concept, this cornerstone, wondering why
when we close our eyes to the sincerely good intentions
of others, it is rarely called denial. When we choose to see well-meaning
intentions rather than pathology, it is.