Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Groups vs. Individuals...we need both!

Leadership is one of the most critical features of a vibrant, healthy and creative society. And in this country, where we are great at celebrating "social history" about the conditions of life in historical periods, we are not so great about celebrating the virtues, gifts and talents of individuals.
Have we become so jaded about individuals and their importance because of the "star" culture we loath in the U.S.?
Have we developed a "perspective" that places the group ahead of the individual,as part of our "mosaic"? I recall a conversation with a then supervisor/trainer who facilitated a group of adult learners. When he informed me that the purpose of the group was the enhancement of the group itself, I balked, "While the group's effective functioning is important, it exists only to enhance the growth and development of the individuals that comprise the group."
The charter of rights itemizes individual rights, freedoms and liberties. And yet the culture of this country places more emphasis on the group's identity. Our media is focussed on the "Gay Rights" group, or the "immigrant groups" from various ethnicities, or the "unions" or the "doctors" or the "lawyers" or the "politicians"...and it says here:
So long as we continue in the mind-set that the group's identity and needs and aspirations trump those of the individual, we will always be a mediocre, second-class and somewhat dysfunctional society.
There is some value, and the NDP and the United Church and the "social gospel Christians are the embodiment of this position, in making social policy for the whole society. However, visions do not come from groups. Poems, plays, novels, symphonies, portraits, speeches, and even goals in our favourite sport of hockey, come from individuals. To be sure, they are in collaboration with others, their editors, their mentors, their line-mates, but it is the individual who either accomplishes something unique or not.
And, for us to think otherwise, and to elevate the group above the individual, whether that inidividual is a figure from history, or a current political, scientific or artistic leader, is to miss the essence of genius, and the essence of creativity.
Dr. Scott Peck, in his relentless search for someone in the Pentagon to take responsibility for the Mi Lia massacre in Viet Nam, came up empty-handed, because he could only uncover "groups" who had anything to do with the activities in the war.
Groups are a great way to camouflage responsibility; perhaps even to release individuals from responsibility. They are also a great way to cover up organizational conflict, because once the group has made a decision, and its members "fall into line" behind the decision, no one has to take the risk of "being out of line" with the group's decision.
The relationship between individual leaders and their constituents is a critical thread in the fabric of the society; however, let us not forget that it was individuals who, sometimes collectively, sometimes individually, made significant decisions, discoveries, sacrifices, insights and creative masterpieces of composition or of design and of performance.
Orchestras are magnificent and their performances are enhanced by the outstanding contributions of their soloists.
Canada needs to recover an appreciation of those soloists, and soon.

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