"Do what you've always done, and you'll get what you've always got." - Anthony Robbins
"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." - Benjamin Franklin or Albert Einstein
Change. It's one of the hardest things for the human mind to accept, yet the most natural thing in the world. If there's anything we can count on, is that everything changes.
Recently, several of my groups have been going through turmoil. Toastmasters, writers groups and homeschooling groups. In each case, the turmoil arose due to the changing needs of individuals within that group . "But it's always been this way!" old-timers cry. "What will happen to us if we do things differently?" group officers worry. Yet, in each group, there is a clear need to change. Partly due to external circumstances. But the larger reason is this: new people have joined the group which creates a new set of group needs. Either the group has grown, or it has more young families, or it has more business people, or some other group dynamic change because of the influx of new people.
The truth is that when any group encourages new members to join, change is going to happen. Even in a group that doesn't add new members, people evolve as individuals. When individual change happens, it puts pressure on the group to keep up with the individuals' needs.
I bring this up on a homeschooling blog because it parallels how family units are in constant flux.
My toastmasters group, for example, is in a transition stage. The two founding members want things to be the way they want things. Much of which was exactly how it was when they started the group 15 years ago. The group has grown from 5 to 30 people. And the group has moved from a two-man show, to having a president, secretary, and several other officers. These officers change regularly. The inevitable happened - the officers, who, after serving in a leadership role for a while, see need for change. The group founders do not want change without their approval.
It reminds me of the struggle that can happen in a family when children want things that we parents may not be excited about.
"Mom, I know we've had dinner at 6:00 every night since I was old enough to sit at the dinner table. But, can we skip Tuesdays? I have practice." "I'd rather paint than write." "I know I've been doing T-ball for years, but I decided I want to quit and do something else now." "I'm old enough now to stay up as late as I want to." "Really, do I have to go to the homeschooling conference this year? Billy's family is going to Hawaii and they invited me." Or just plain, "I don't wanna!!!!"
The founding members of a family are us, the parents, and the new officers and members are the kids. Growing up, getting older, taking responsibility, and wanting things to be different.
Now, what would happen if the founding members of my toastmasters group put their foot down and said, 'I don't care what you want, we won't change?" What would the new members and new officers do? I would guess, they would leave. But what if they were not allowed to leave? How would the new officers deal with the pressure to keep things going the way the founding members want, when the group is not considering their needs and perspectives? Would they be helpful? Loving? Appreciative? Trusting? or would they rebel and try to undermine the process in order to get what what they want? What would you do in their position?
Now imagine if those founding members said instead, "We see your point, let's see how we can change things so everyone's needs are met, and we can make this place even better. How can we all work together to do that?"
I think those officers would want to stay. They would be more likely to do what they could to help the group which is supporting them.
Our kids, as they grow up, they are the members of our family - and they are going to want change. Their needs will change. Their goals. They will demand from us that we do things differently. We have a choice - to try and keep doing things our way, or to work with the kids and find out how we can change together.
Being that I am one of the members of my toastmasters group who is struggling to change, I can say with pretty good certainty which perspective would create an environment where I would want to stay and support the group. And which one would give me pause and seriously consider whether the group is adding to my life, or eating away at my spirit.
On the other hand, it's not an insignificant reality that our group needs to have a leader (or two). The go-to guy. The one who will take the heat when the pressure's on. Who will deal with the larger issues complying with the Toastmasters organizational rules. Someone who holds our group together. Fight for us. Stand up for us. This is true for my toastmaster's group. And it's true for our homeschooling groups.
We can all do it together, of course. And a group is only as strong as the individuals who support it. But knowing we have that quiet strength there to help us when we don't know what to do - that keeps us safe, confident and wanting to come back - is important to our continued growth.. That person or those persons who really, deeply care for the existence of the group more than anyone else - who keeps us going even when we are all tired or distracted or upset - they keep going anyway. Groups need these kinds of people there too. These people's needs are important too. Because without them, groups can lack direction and cohesion.
In the best of possible scenarios, in a strong and flexible group dynamic, these leaders eventually work themselves out of a job, because their leadership encourage predecessors. Their enthusiasm is contagious. They delegate their responsibilities to new members who will one day take over. They pass the torch with passion, rather than it having to be wrest from their grip. Leaders who understand the needs of the new people coming in, and are willing to listen to them create an atmosphere where people are willing to step up and take responsibility for what needs to be done.
This is what eventually happened in my toastmasters group. The founders, after much talk and going around, gave up their need to micromanage every decision and effort that was made in the club. They decided to give the officers more autonomy. Before, in order to add anything new to the group, to change a protocol or to make a decision, it had to go through the founders. Things as simple as who would stand in someone's place when they were on vacation. The officers were ready to give up and leave, as many sets of officers had done in years past. But this year, for some reason (I'd like to attribute it to our current president's awesome communication skills and tenacity), they decided to back off and let the officers do their job. There is still some tension, but overall, the group is so much happier, growing more united and supportive, especially during the meetings. Simply because the leaders gave up their stronghold on needing to keep things the way they w anted them above everyone else's needs. (ie. keeping it exactly the way it always has been)
We, as parents, are working ourselves out of a job too. We're raising group members who will one day take over, in a sense, and we step away to let them. We give our kids responsibility and freedom to ask for change so they too can manage their own group and keep all the members excited and inspired. They may have crazy ideas and they may ask for more than we are willing to give sometimes. It's not a matter of if they will do this, but how we decide to handle this when it inevitably comes up.
Change can be scary. Especially when it goes in a direction that we're unsure about, or we don't understand. Or when it is something that we ourselves can't handle, so we don't want to go there. But if we aren't getting the result we want (i.e. happy, fulfilled, successful kids), doing the same thing over and over isn't the solution. That's when it's time to change. As much as it's human nature to resist change, it's our willingness to change direction that sets us, and each other, free.
Seeing my groups go through turmoil is a lesson for me. It shows how attractive it is to become attached to a "way", even if that "way" isn't very productive or appropriate. These groups have taught me that when there is more than one person, everyone's opinions count. These challenging times in my groups have taught me also, that even when there is a difference in opinion, there is always a way out. It may not be the door we came in by, but the exit door is there somewhere. We just have to be willing to open it.
Tammy Takahashi lives and learns with her three children (10, 7 and 4) and supportive husband in California. She is the author of Deschooling Gently: A Step by Step Guide to Fearless Homeschooling. She also serves as the editor of the California HomeSchooler magazine, a bi-monthly publication for the Homeschool Association of California. You can read more from her about education and homeschooling on her website. And you can email her at tammy.takahashi @ gmail(dot)com.