Tuesday, August 9, 2005

#133 Group Dynamics

Musings #133
August 8, 2005
The 3rd of Av

Group Dynamics

Today I attended one of those “staff events.” I’m sure they have them all over the world. The “highlight” was an exercise in “Group Dynamics.” It was the type of game-like activity popular in youth movements and schools, especially in the beginning of the year when not everyone’s acquainted.

I teach in a high school which though has been in existence twenty years, has recently undergone administrative and structural changes. That’s besides the usual staff changes. On the whole I really do enjoy working there and haven’t taken up any alternative job offers.

The “activity” was planned and conducted by the two Guidance Counselors. They explained that this was to be an “active” survey to poll our opinions and feelings. During the past year both students and staff were asked to fill out questionnaires detailing our opinions about certain matters. This was to be a continuation, with a difference.

They placed the numbers one through five throughout a large foyer. Then they explained that “five” meant total agreement, and “one” total disagreement, with the others in proportion. We were told to go the number appropriate to our opinions for each “statement.” There were five statements ranging from “I agree with the aims and principles of the school,” and “I feel comfortable speaking to the management.” From the beginning I took this seriously and really thought about how I feel. In response to the first statement I walked to “number two.” Amazingly I was the only one there. Almost everyone else was crowded around “four” and “five.” Our “union representative” was at “one.” We were quite isolated; “three” was deserted. Only occasionally did anyone join us at the first three numbers.

The next stage of this three-part exercise was for the staff to break into five groups. Each group discussed one of the statements in depth and summarized the discussion. Then a representative of each group presented its conclusions to the entire staff. I was amazed. In the relative privacy in each of the small groups, there wasn’t any of the agreement we saw in that public polling. The results were the exact opposite.

I had just witnessed a very civilized example of “mob mentality,” also known as “the collective complex.” The individual weakens, losing not only his individuality, but also his moral values. It hit me! This is what has been happening in Israel, in the cabinet, Knesset, the army and even more so in the media. Most people, genetically, intrinsically have a need to fit in. That’s why in the Bible the Children of Israel, just a short time after witnessing and experiencing the miracles of the exodus from Egypt, formed the golden calf and worshipped it. And then the majority voted with the spies who were afraid to enter the Promised Land.

That’s why when volunteers went visiting tens of thousands of Israeli families and spoke to them as individuals over the importance of canceling the Disengagement, of keeping Gush Katif Israeli, the people agreed. But once they leave their homes they want the comfort of being parat of a group, of supporting the government.

The same police and soldiers who as individuals don’t want to remove Jews from their homes in Gush Katif and Northern Samaria, but as a group, with very few exceptions, can’t refuse.

It’s hard for people like myself who are comfortable with being an individual, even when I’m a very solitary one. My personal challenge is to find ways to strengthen others so that they, too, will have the strength to live according to their principles, rather than follow what they perceive as the majority.

As individuals the majority of Israelis, including soldiers and policemen don’t want Disengagement to take place. The majority, in their hearts, wants Jews to have the freedom to live in all of Eretz Yisrael. The majority knows, in their hearts and minds that Disengagement endangers the entire country and each of them individually, whether they live in Ma’ale Adumim or Ramat Gan or Ramat HaGolan or Beer Sheva.

Ordinary Israelis look at politicians like Tzachi Hanegbi and Limor Livnat who claim to oppose Disengagement but remain in the cabinet, unwilling to give up their cushy jobs, and they can understand their dilemmas. I look at these people as weak and pathetic hypocrites. I have no respect for them. Bibi Netanyahu’s late resignation from the cabinet is too late to buy my respect.

The countdown to Tisha B’Av, the Memorial Day for the destruction of the Holy Temples and the date the government chose for Disengagement, G-d forbid is getting shorter. Our sages say that when the Moshiach comes it will be a holiday a day of feasting and celebrations.

G-d willing, this year,

Batya Medad, Shiloh
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