Primary vs Secondary Individual-Group Mentality

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A distinction made by Heb Shepard, summarized by Rosa Zubizarreta:


from the perspective of "primary mentality", 'individual' and 'group' are experienced as opposite... in order to have a strong group, it appears that we need to 'give up' some of our individuality; conversely, to be 'individuals', it appears we need to 'distance' ourselves from the group...

in contrast, from the perspective of "secondary mentality" 'individual' and 'group' are experienced in a synergistic way: the MORE room there is for people to be individual and unique and eccentric, the stronger a group we will have; conversely, the more real support i can feel from the group, the more individual and unique and eccentric i can be...



Citation

Rosa Zubizarreta:


"[what's crucial is] whether we are experiencing the 'two sides' [of individual and collective] as a 'zero-sum game', where the MORE room there is of one, the LESS room there can be for the other...

OR instead, as a potential synergy, a 'creative tension' where the well-being of each, enhances the well-being of the other....

Herb Shepard, one of the pioneers of organization development, wrote years ago about the distinction between what he called "primary mentality" and "secondary mentality"....

from the perspective of "primary mentality", 'individual' and 'group' are experienced as opposite... in order to have a strong group, it appears that we need to 'give up' some of our individuality; conversely, to be 'individuals', it appears we need to 'distance' ourselves from the group...

in contrast, from the perspective of "secondary mentality" 'individual' and 'group' are experienced in a synergistic way: the MORE room there is for people to be individual and unique and eccentric, the stronger a group we will have; conversely, the more real support i can feel from the group, the more individual and unique and eccentric i can be...

i think that what Shepard was referring to as a 'mentality' (whether primary or secondary) resides not just within each of us, as individuals, but also, within a group, or culture, or social arrangement...

not just in 'individual consciousness' OR in 'group structures', but in BOTH...

so we as individuals, we can always discover or create ways to 'resist' structures that are organized along the lines of 'primary mentality', and, find ways to create forms of social interaction, that support 'secondary mentality"....

AND, at the same time, the social forms of organization, _do_ affect us... making one or another form of mentality, more likely... Our ways of talking and thinking and organizing ourselves, tend to be rooted in one or the other mentality.....

i think it's also important to recognize, that these forms or structures, that embody and support these different kinds of consciousness can be 'habitual' and 'informal', rather than 'explicit/formal'... so even when a community has rejected the conventional forms of organization which could be seen as embodying primary mentality (voting, majority rules, bureaucratic structures, etc...)

it's still the case, that the community will tend to have a particular 'culture', or 'way of doing things'... and that culture will not necessarily be 'secondary' since as individuals, we still tend to carry the "primary mentality" within us, even in the absence of conventional forms of organization...

so the desire to 'belong', to 'get along', to 'not be excluded from the group', along with the internalized belief, that to do so, we need to 'not make waves', can tend to silence a lot of potential divergence and encourage conformity to the prevailing cultural norms... (the 'groupthink' phenomenon....

i think this may connect in some way, with what Danah Boyd was pointing to, about her concern with the wikipedia community's adulation of the media...

so, to whatever degree a community does _not_ have effective ways of creating containers for divergent perspectives and ways of being, effective ways in which difference and conflict can transform into greater creativity,

people will _still_, tend to experience an 'either-or', between 'being themselves', and 'being a part of the community'... even in the absence of the formal structures that embody primary mentality...

this is _not_ something we can "think ourselves out of", in my view, although, theory can be helpful...

we need to create, the EXPERIENCE, of "safe places for the fullness of our individuality to manifest itself, IN THE CONTEXT OF, shared space..."

[[this is the purpose of a kind of facilitation which focuses on DIVERGENCE, not convergence, in a way that allows authentic (emergent) convergence to take place freely, of its own accord...

my experience of much of conventional facilitation, is that it is on the "reductionist collectivism" end of the spectrum...:-) ]]

without alternative structures that welcome individual creativity and divergence within a shared space, all we know is what we DON'T want, and so we tend to throw out the formal structures that embody primary mentality (voting, majority rules, bureaucratic structures, etc.) without having anything to put in their place...

as the critics of consensus and deliberation have pointed out, these "primary mentality" structures often do give SOME protection to the minority perspective. However i am NOT arguing here, in 'favor' of them... i am simply pointing out that, _without_ those formal structure ,AND, _without anything else_, to take their place, we can become even MORE vulnerable to the pull of cultural conformity that operates, generally implicitly, often throughinformal networks, status and influence, 'the way things are done around here', etc. etc. etc."