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26 January 2011
Creating Identity Through Group Experience
In my near forty years of living, I have managed to secure an identity that is both dynamic and unique. When I take an introspective analysis of my past and present worldviews, I am overwhelmed how the influence of others in small groups has both shaped and continues to shape who I am. The most important areas of my life are relationships, specifically, my relationship with myself, others and God. The quest to fully understand and ensure that I continue to grow in these three areas is what fuels the fire of my passion in communication studies. Although I can recall the impact that specific people have had on my life, it has been the small group interaction that has had the most influence on my persona.
At first glance, one¶s relationship with his or herself may appear to be strictly intrapersonal. However, for me, my participation in small groups has played an important role in forming, developing and evolving my relationship with self. As a young child, I participated in Cub Scouts. Facilitated through parent volunteers, the lessons I learned in early childhood cultivated self-esteem, a passion to give back and a yearning to belong. In Cub Scouts, a member earns patches for accomplishing specific achievements. I recall the ³pack leaders´ emphasizing the importance of teamwork. We were encouraged to work together as a ³pack´.
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The animal family metaphor was successful in shaping my identity as a cub scout. This was evidenced by the proud manner I wore my uniform in school every Thursday and my desire to live by the Cub Scout credo. In addition to the Cub Scouts, my relationship with myself has been impacted through sports teams, interpersonal groups both in and out of the workplace.
I have had many jobs throughout the years. Some I have enjoyed some I have despised. When I was thirty, I read a book called ³Half Time´. The book was spiritual in nature and encouraged people to search themselves and move from a life of success to significance. The church I was attending encouraged the congregation to form small groups and work through the book. The overall outcome of the small group changed the way I view myself, others and God. The small group had a life similar to the process outlined on pages 58-63 of our text. While the group was formed was formed at the request of our pastor, it was our common interest for the material inside ³Halftime´ that actually brought us together. During the forming stage, we identified a leader, set out a reading plan, and empowered each of us with the authority to ask tough personal questions. During the storming phase, our group experienced what I consider to be growing pains. While each member in our group shared common ground in sex, our concept of God, and the material in the book, we differed generationally and culturally. Prior to the formation of our small group, our relationship was limited to simple pleasantries on Sunday morning. Now in a small group, we became familiar with each other¶s personal affairs. Some of the members in our small group were eager to self-disclose and some were hesitant. This created some friction amongst our group and eventually we found a happy balance. Once we found that balance, the group began to perform. The performance was measured through our collective decision to stop chasing the dollar and commit to a life of serving others. For me, the decision meant leaving a well-paid job and accept a much lower paid pastoral position in the church.
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Other group members chose to spearhead service projects within the community. The whole experience was life-changing for all of us. While I am not in the clergy any longer, the residual effects of the small group still guide me today. Since 2000, I have not worked at a for profit organization and have become a passionate advocate for the homeless. While I enjoy being a voice for the marginalized, my experiences in non-profit organizations has had troubles as well.
Most recently, I was employed as the program director for a local agency here in Charlotte. The agency provided basic needs for homeless men and women. In addition, the agency also owns 13 houses around the main facility and provides community supportive housing to individuals who apply to the program. While on the outside, the agency would appear to be benevolent in nature and a blessing to many people who truly need help. Sadly, philosophical and cultural differences within the leadership team has led to financial irresponsibility, a decrease in distributing services to the homeless and damaged relationships between people who have dedicated their lives to serve the homeless. Our leadership team was made up of four individuals. Two men and two women, and all but myself were African American. Apparently, I was the first white male ever employed at the agency. Sadly, in the past, I have seen discrimination from my own race. Until working at this local agency, I had never truly experienced racial discrimination. The thing that hurt me the most was that the agency is a faith-based agency and claims to be under the authority of God. As is the case with most issues of racism, it was the actions of one individual and the silent approval of the others that caused me to be a victim of racism. I¶m a secure individual and understand that cultural differences need to be recognized and discussed openly in order to usher in understanding. Unfortunately, my hope for understanding was never actualized. Instead, I was called racist names, my ideas were continually challenged, my family was insulted and ultimately one other
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leader (not my superior) said in a meeting, ³that cracker needs to go´. I voluntarily left and pray every day that the person who perpetuated the racist behavior and the people who allowed it to happen realize the error of their actions and learn to live with people who are different then themselves. Furthermore, I understand that the inappropriate behavior may have been a reaction to my failure to comply with group norms. However, my decision to remove myself from the environment rested on the fact that one of the group norms was to treat others poorly. In an agency that endeavors to serve some of our community¶s most vulnerable citizens, treating people well (including colleagues) is paramount to goal achievement. While the recent events of the local Charlotte agency were painful, they have inspired me to dive into the next phase of my life. This new phase of my life is also dependent on small group interaction.
Currently, I am in the development stage of incorporating a new non-profit agency whose mission it will be to serve the needs of the men and women currently experiencing homelessness. While my most recent endeavor was sad and painful, throughout the years, I have managed to cultivate an awesome network of colleagues who are share a passion to serve the needs of others. It¶s the strength of this network and the collective passion we share that will ensure the success of this new outreach. One of the initial steps in starting a nonprofit agency is to establish a board of directors. As of two weeks ago, we have a functioning board. The board consists of six members differing in age, race and sex. We are in the forming stage of our development. Once we established our roles, we collectively agreed to create well defined core values. We all agreed that agencies in the Charlotte area lack the care and compassion needed to adequately gain the trust of homeless men and women and ultimately help those in need. Therefore, in contrast to the aforementioned agency, one of the core values of the new corporation is to treat each employee and service recipient with dignity and respect. Furthermore, this new agency will
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value diversity and embrace the differences of others and seek to understand one another and avoid judgment. We all believe that it¶s the differences we share that will ultimately broaden our reach to the needy and allow the new agency to gain the trust of the homeless population, potential donors and employees. The unfortunate events that took place while I was a program director brought to surface the need to incorporate safeguards which will hopefully ensure that differences are celebrated instead of judged. While I can claim that my experiences brought to the surface the need for explicit wording. There are more core values to our agency, and the crafting of all of them has been a collective effort. Everyone had ideas and the final draft can¶t be traced back to a single individual. I am excited that we were able to foster a climate of synergy in the drafting of our core values.
I mentioned in my introduction that the most important assets in my life are my relationship with myself, others and God. I believe that these three relationships are interdependent on one another and alive in everything I do. In order for me to be ³happy´ I have to ensure that all three areas are receiving maintenance. For example, whenever I feel uneasy, insecure or anxious, I am able pinpoint where I have fallen short in my relationship with myself, others or God. Quite often, it¶s through the collective wisdom of small groups that I am able to restore a relationship and move on. Small groups have shaped and continue to shape me in every way imaginable. I am a person that sees God in everything I do²even Cub Scouts. While the requirement to serve others was a requirement in the scouts, the satisfaction and eventual life calling, I believe, was God inspired. Small groups are a powerful means to affect change in the world. After all, Jesus chose to change the world by initially starting a small group of twelve individuals who wanted to live a life of significance.
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