Monday, August 3, 2009

Group Dynamics And Grange Dances

I confess I don't have any formal education in the field of group dynamics. But naturally, like everything else I set my mind to, I'm an expert in it. I feel that formal education takes away a person's fire and enforces conformity to a particular line of thought. I prefer to think for myself and discern the truth through intuition. Don't believe me? OK, my intuition is telling me right now that you, the average reader, think I'm full of crap, and that formal education should never be dissed. See how good I am?

Now that I've addressed the skeptics, let me invite you to please feel free to quote me in theme papers, term papers, dissertations, or group dynamics seminars. Whatever the style manual says about attributions, go with it. But as for seminars, oral presentations, of course I will understand if you don't feel like attributing the quotes to me personally, because one thing I know about group dynamics, the folks at seminars don't really care about such details. They hate being there in the first place and all they're interested in (short-term) is when the next coffee break is.

As for who I am and how I happen to have such a vast understanding of such a complex field -- group dynamics -- the actual truth is I'm like a hillbilly. You might've driven by and seen me sitting outside my house today chewing on a weed. Because that's what I was doing, the local man sitting there thinking. And I know I was seriously thinking because the weed was chewed to mush, which is what I do. If you tell your seminar audience that your quotes are from a weed-chewing hillbilly, actually that would make them more interested. But there's a good chance that seminar bookers won't want you back, because it's in their long-term interest that you mimic academic standards.

But I'm interested in group dynamics at various kinds of seminars, anything really. I'll just throw a dart and let it stick in one truth about seminars and tell me I'm not right: The audience will kiss the butt of the presenter every time, and they do it magnificently. Because you never know when the presenter is going to be looking right into your eyes, putting you on the spot, and you know you want to look good in the eyes of the rest of the audience. Am I right? Of course I am. But never fear, because the presenter is not going to turn on you. Whatever you say, he or she is going manage to affirm you.

Anyway, that's my group dynamics lesson for the day.

Now, how does this apply to grange dances? There's some serious group dynamics at grange dances, but they're different than at seminars. At grange dances the people all pretty much know each other. The folks who are unknown are those who accompany the regulars. There's a lot of interest in these unknown folks because a grange community is mentally a very inbred thing. Fresh blood raises fresher possibilities. But not everything that the unknown do will be affirmed, big difference. Because the group dynamic is one that has protection of the group at its base. If you fail at any point to impress, you will be shunned until you're so uncomfortable that you commit suicide or are kicked to death by a horse.

Check the stats. In rural areas there's more suicides and "accidental" horse kickings within two miles of a grange meeting place than any other place. (Before the decline of the family farm this wasn't true. At that time, let's say 1972 and before, most suicides took place by people hanging themselves in barns. Granges held second place. Although "accidental" horse kickings never took place in private barns and nearly always at granges.)

Let's say you're a newcomer at the grange. If you make it through the grueling introductions and being sized up, then it's time for the dance. I'm going to say something that they'll never tell you. This is where the real sizing up takes place. There are eyes on you the whole dance. There are people outside, apparently drunk, one leg on their car door. These people are as sober as a fundamentalist and equally eagle-eyed. They are looking for the real you, what you reveal when you think you're safe.

They'll have informants, apparently making out in cars, walking by sloshed, groping at each other, women with their shirts unbuttoned, seeming to be very loose in their morals, men with their pants pulled down, peeing against trees or even the side of the grange. It's all a test. I once saw a dozen people in a figure eight orgy because they wanted to break down one newcomer. And they got him too. He started to unzip his pants -- that's it -- when a horse suddenly appeared and kicked him to death.

If you're a man, say about my age, and you're there to meet a farmer's daughter, chances are you'll meet an informant. Because nearly everyone there is an informant, sizing you up, seeing if you're suitable to fit into their society. For those who make it, there are plenty of positive benefits besides surviving these terrible horses.

One positive benefit is that, from now on, unless they fail morally, they will have a community that watches over them like a hawk, keeping them ever in their sight, giving them that steady sense of protection and inclusion in the group. You'll never make a move without their approval, and you won't want to. Because you appreciate that structure in your life.

You'll feel safe as you advance on, knowing the rest of the group is there keeping that structure as rigid and right as possible. At some point -- you'll find it's like being in the company of polygamists -- you'll be part of a team of five or six, and you will walk in tight formation, staring straight ahead, turning without obvious signals to do so, losing all individuality. It's like they're drugged but it's not that at all. It's a strict discipline that you maintain because you appreciate the group's mind and heart.

It's a beautiful thing -- this group dynamic of discipline -- that, as I've said, extends even to their livestock, particularly their horses. Their horses have lost all the sense of their nature with a neatly enforced conditioning. Somehow they're trained to care about enforcing the structure, standing with a calculated casual stance meant to lull those marked for death into a sense of safety. Then as soon as you step behind them or even to the side, they'll whirl around and embed a horseshoe in your forehead. What they're trying to tell you is this, You didn't make the cut.

I'm planning on launching out a little in life. I've been alone long enough. Wish me luck. I'm going to the grange next Friday night for the dance. My family has a heritage in the grange even though Grandma and I haven't been there for years. I would guess most of them are suspicious of me because my family didn't adher to the discipline.

If I survive -- let's just say I will, fingers crossed -- I'll blog about it here next Saturday.

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