Guardians

When groups reach decisions in tough problem spaces it can be hard to get everybody in synch with the choice that’s been made. Sometimes this leads to folks wandering (even boiling) off. That almost always happens in an Open Source projects in the inter-version transitions. Sometimes it leads to the group splitting up. This is why we have so many churches in the US.

Mind guards (a community maintainance role) often act to help temper these forces. As the group reachs a decision the mind guards fan out to help hold everybody to the course chosen. This can like all other community maintainance roles go bad. A community who’s mind guards are too draconian will be unable to engage in any vigourous problem solving.

Ostracizing is another pattern. When groups undergo a bumby period and it become clear that folks are going to boil off surviving portions of the group will sometimes engage in a massive amount of shunning; presumably so they can get on with. Again this can go very badly.

Against this backgroup you get a complementary process involving the exit/voice/loyality dynamics of the individual group members. As the vigourous problem solving comes to closure the group collectively turns down the voice knob, turns up the loyality knob which leads to some degree of exiting by the indivuals. This is hard work for the individuals. On the loyality front they have to labor to strengthen loyalities in the face of personal doubts; or conversely they have to go thru the grief of tearing down existing loyalities. On the voice front they have to shift from a collective dialog about the problem at hand and shift to a personal dialog about enter/exit the choice that’s been made.

There is a tragic variation of the guardian pattern. The new member arrives at the door of the group and makes a few statements. The groups guardian immune system reacts. The pattern I’ve noted is how rare it is for the reaction to be played out privately. Why do the guardians choose to publicly scold or shun new commer rather than privately outline the nature of the local customs?

One, reasonably functional, answer is that they don’t want the public statements of the new commer to reopen old arguements or pattern bad behavior for others. If that’s the goal a short critique would do the job. But often the critique I’ve observed is strong, even vitrolic.

My guess is that the guardians in this case are revealing something about their own inner live. The level of conflict they have with the issue still. The new commer’s actions didn’t arouse them; they were already aroused. The new commer just provided a hook for them. It’s an oportunity for them to demonstrate their loyality, to prove that they don’t voice the ‘wrong’ answer. Tragically this tends to send newcommers running. It’s an unintended consequence that the guardian’s over aroused response on issue X leads to the group growing insuallar re. the entire rest of the alphabet.

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