The inert anger building for centuries, years, months, weeks, and days erupted when a police officer in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis, Minnesota, pinned George Floyd to the ground with the officer's leg on Floyd's neck, blocking his air passage and ignoring Floyd's desperate gasps that he could not breathe. No one came to the dying man's help.
We feel overwhelmed -- all of us, but especially if we are people of color. We cannot pretend to be surprised. This has happened before.
And the tragic, scary realization that goes to our mind when we allow ourselves to think about it is this very fact: the abuse of minorities -- of all kinds -- is woven within the fabric of our society. What does this mean? What does it mean that we are in this mess? Is this our nature? What is human nature like? What is the nature of persons, of groups?
There are things we do know about this because the question of human nature has been asked in one form or another since we evolved, slithering out of the salty muck where homo sapiens originated and began to assert ourselves in Mother Nature by developing over centuries a consciousness that permits us to examine ourselves, our motives, how we differ from other animals, how we prosper, how our infants thrive to continue our evolutionary exploration not only of our planetary home but our solar system as well.
And this is what we have learned. It all begins with trust. We have been taught that by organizational psychology (Jack Gibb, Trust), psychosocial psychology (Erik Erikson, Childhood and Society), as well as psychoanalytic depth psychology (Carl Jung, Collected Works). I mention only these three names although by this time in the early twenty-first century, there are many others in a procession of teachers, researchers, parents, counselors, ministers, and clinicians who have witnessed with their own experience the truth and power of trust as the beginning point of human development, group life, and civilization's well-being.
Dr. Jack Gibb was a major figure at the National Training Laboratories in Bethel, Maine during their creative work developing team dynamics, communication in groups, T-Group methodology, and leadership development. Working during the fertile period of the mid-to-late twentieth century, Gibb consulted with many of the major corporations in the world. However, he became known as well for the application of his ground-breaking work as it applied to education, the military, religious systems, and organizational life in general.
The simplicity and elegance of his process made group development accessible to diverse groups of people who worked with small and large groups in various settings. Basically, in lay terms, Jack Gibb stressed the four stages of a healthy group. They were:
TRUST FORMATION: The beginning issue for all group members is the matter of inclusion. Am I safe in this group? Am I included? Do I show inclusion of others? If so, then we move more easily to the next stage.
DATA FLOW: Group members feel free in a trusting atmosphere to share ideas, to agree and disagree, to build up the insights of everyone, to move toward a group consensus, and to resolve conflict as it arises, thus making possible the third stage.
GOAL FORMATION: All groups exist to accomplish some goal(s). The goals are build upon a foundation of trust, and from that vantage point the group works to establish the fourth and final stage.
CONTROL: This is the stage where everything that has gone before pays dividends culminating in the system of control that includes all the necessary data, making possible the achievement of the goal(s) projected by the group. And there is a by-product as well, which is the satisfaction and fulfillment of group members who have accomplished a worthy piece of work while establishing satisfying, meaningful relationships.
Before leaving Gibb, however, it is worthwhile to note another feature in his four-stage theory of group development. This feature is the very pragmatic one of determining where and how a group of people working together may stall in their process.
For example, if a group cannot establish the organizational control necessary to accomplish its desired aim, Gibb suggested you go back one step to consider what the goal(s) may be. Perhaps the goal is not clear or all members have not really accepted that goal.
What happens then if you determine that, in fact, some problem remains in defining the goal which needs to be shared by the group as a whole. If this is the case that the goal is either not clear or not accepted by some significant members of the group, the problem likely will be found in the previous stage of data flow.
In other words, more information needs to be uncovered. Or, perhaps, a divergent view needs to be given more consideration before the group as a whole can bring its full commitment to the formation of a goal.
But, finally, what if more data cannot be forthcoming? Are there group members who have psychologically withdrawn from the process? Are there members who are afraid to speak, either because they have been criticized or have never felt empowered to enter the "give-and-take" by which issues are aired, conflicts resolved, problems solved, and a common purpose established?
If this cannot take place, then most often it is the case that trust has given way to mistrust, or that trust development did not occur in the very early life of the group. This is the most crucial stage in any group's life, not goal-setting or goal implementation, but the establishment of trust.
My brief sketch of group life, its stages, and its underlying dynamic of trust serves as a prototype for many different kinds of groups -- as well as for our society in general, do you see? This is so fundamental for our common life, because what is a society but a composite of many groups in which people mingle, work, play, worship, create, and build structures of enduring empowerment for the good of everyone.
And it begins with trust. Trust is the great lubricant for the working engines of a democratic society. When we work at trust, we see dissolve the forces that work against our general well-being: greed, racism, empiricism, nationalism, domination, dogmatism, and egoism.
This is our human nature, to weave our lives together with the very vulnerable, thin thread of trust. In fact, when we look around, we see that the agency of trust -- its emotion, its social dynamic, its substantive reality in the lives of human beings and all animals -- this thing we call trust apparently has its being within NATURE itself. This must be why we use the evocative term "Mother Nature," that arouses within each of us the sense of protection, nurture, empowerment, and well-being.
And now, for the moment, my last question: What is trust?
Let's hold that question until next month.