Here’s something I can say for sure: self-organizing groups increase the resilience of group members and at least some nearby others. I experience this myself every time I’m part of a self-aware self-organizing group—both my own and others. This holds true across all 30 groups I’ve studied—from teacher and employee and consulting groups to friendship groups to milk carton derbys and flash mobs. Here’s an example from my own life this week…
I spent all day yesterday flash mobbing. At 2:10 (Seattle Center), 3 (Westlake Center), and 4 p.m. (Capital Hill on 10th between Pike and Pine), we Glee flash mobbers ripped up the pavement, spread surprise and delight across ourselves and nearby others, and managed to completely forget at moments that it started really raining sometime mid-day. Here’s one of our videos:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ftt9wCYH4o0 (My favorite bystander quote so far is at 6:22: “Why does that stop? That should never stop. Just always be going…”)
As a group member and as a researcher, I most definitely did not bring my A game yesterday. Daniel and I learned Saturday that our beautiful, not-yet-3-year-old cat Bonzai has a terminal illness. There is no treatment, and we may have a few weeks or even just a few days left with her. We’re pet people, so this is devastating for our family. Especially given that it was just in December that we also lost our beautiful old dog Sydney to another disease. We both woke up yesterday in shock, already tired, and short-tempered. Our other cat Bella started hissing at us and at Bonzai, not approving of tense humans or sick cats that smell like the vet’s office. Daniel and I headed to flash mob rehearsal preoccupied with worry about our sick girl.
In my grief I’d forgotten one of the coolest parts about living as self-organizing groups: the group brings it’s A game and feeds you energy on the days you show up as an individual, like I did, sad, angry, depressed, teary eyed, and tense all rolled into one. Here are some of the ways in which my self-organizing groups fostered resilience and healing in me this weekend.
The flash mob lifts my spirits. The first hour of rehearsal was tough for me. I was exhausted with the weight of my worry. Tears came to my eyes multiple times and I couldn’t sing along at all. Eventually, though, the energy of 1,300+ happy, singing, and dancing others rubbed off on me. Making monster claws, monster faces, and doing the monster twist for the Lady GaGa song made it impossible for me to be teary-eyed. We rehearsed from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and by the time we finished, my heart was feeling healed, and I was looking forward to the mobs themselves. I didn’t forget the situation we’re facing at home, but I was filled with the energy and joy of the crowd. You know how crowds sometimes bat around a beach ball above their heads before concerts? That’s what my spirit felt like—lightened, lifted up, and supported by my people—my mob. The mobs themselves were the most fun I’ve been part of. I think in part because I was even more aware of how lucky I was to be with them. I took that spirit back home with me–a spirit much more suited for sharing with my sick little girl.
Friends and family surround us with support. From the time we first noticed our cat was sick, we’ve started spending more time together. Daniel and I hug each other—and the pets—more regularly throughout the day, and they get all the dehydrated chicken treats they want. My crazy-busy sister called and talked to me for an hour last night. Our housemates Chris and Shirley spent more time with us this weekend, even though we’re not great company and I periodically have tears running down my face. Our friend Erik came over and spent time with Bonzai (he’s her favorite friend) and then took us out to dinner last night. Other friends and family have sent messages of support, good thoughts, hope, prayer, and told us their own stories of loss to let us know that we’re not alone. We even received some flowers.
In the moments I’ve felt alone this week, I’ve been a wreck. In the moments I’m aware of my self-organizing groups –including the one with a gray fur ball that will be ending soon– I’ve felt support, love, gratitude, joy, and peace. On my own, resilience isn’t my strong suit. Fortunately, I’m not on my own anymore. Thanks groups!