Chapter Five: The Storm Within


      As facilitator for the group session, Abraham Cole opened the meeting for discussion. They were seated in a circle in Elizabeth and Fred Collins' large living room. "On the first item, I think we ought to limit our recruitment for new members exclusively to our Website instead of trying to recruit through presentations to local people."

      "I thought there were a few Outlook people during our first presentation who asked intelligent questions," Julia Mercer opined. "Why not continue with that procedure along with the Website process?"

      "Our current community membership," Rick Webb said quickly, "came from Diotima's and Elbridge's announcement on the Internet--followed by screening and training. The essence of that recruitment was to target only those who're intelligent and awake enough to realize that predatory capitalism is destroying people worldwide and that a new political-economic structure has to be built. I think we should continue to recruit by encouraging interested candidates to come to us, instead of our trying to go to this or any other community and making a pitch."

      Elizabeth Collins spoke quickly. "I agree with you, Julia, that a few of the local people who attended our first presentation appeared to be interested and somewhat intelligent. But not one of them had any of the prerequisites for membership in our cooperative--as we all recognized. We simply can't waste our time with persons who haven't already proven that they have the required attitudes, understanding, and skills."

      Looking around the group, Abraham sensed that there was ongoing consideration of whether the local presentations should be suspended or not. "So shall we terminate our presentation sessions? Is that the sense of the meeting?" he asked.

      They didn't appear to agree with that. Elbridge spoke up. "I'd suggest we continue the presentation sessions for our own edification and inspiration. The real interchange following the presentation on Casablanca occurred among ourselves. I felt we gained a great deal of motivation and illumination through seeing the exact parallels between Vichy France Casablanca and twenty-first century America--the need to commit ourselves to fight against oppression in every way we can!"

      "I guess we could see ourselves as the outcome of Rick's and Louis' 'beautiful friendship,'" Melissa Thompson said, smiling. There was general humorous agreement with her remark.

      "I'd suggest that our next presentation session focus on Watch On the Rhine," Darby White said. "I find that the movie reinvigorates my own commitment to remaining a fighter against fascism in the Kurt Muller style. And the presentation on Watch On the Rhine revitalizes my own commitment to building a viable cooperative commonwealth."

Trial and Error

      "Just a minute, everybody," Julia said abruptly, "I still think we should continue the presentations for local people as well as ourselves. We shouldn't shut out people who might be viable candidates."

      "So what specific persons do you think we ought to include?" Abraham asked.

      "Well," Julia said, "Stephen and Fannie Tooms. He's a local chiropractor and she's a massage therapist. They had some intelligent things to say about the Casablanca presentation."

      Julia's husband Patrick joined in. "Julia, you and I both spoke with the Toomses. They have no clear idea of what's wrong with this country or the world. They live hand-to-mouth. And they expressed no real interest in what we're doing. Don't you see the wisdom of what Rick and Elizabeth are saying--that we can't waste our time on people who aren't viable candidates for membership in the cooperative?"

      "No, I don't see that. I think we ought to give them more time to make themselves viable candidates."

      "Okay," Abraham said, "our first real disagreement. To be very pointed, Julia, it seems to me that you're not keeping our principles in mind, that you're allowing your emotional attachment to your first idea to cloud your judgment."

      "Oh, so you want to get personal, Abraham? Just because I happen to disagree with most of you?"

      "No," Abraham said, "I'm not making this irrationally personal, I'm just pointing out that you appear to me to be allowing your emotions to cloud your rational judgment."

      "Don't you agree," Patrick asked Julia, "with our membership criteria: $50,000 net holdings, demonstrable comprehension of American and world political-economic conditions, and ability to use critical thinking to come to opinions?"

      "Yes, yes, that all sounds very noble and rational--and logic-chopping and extreme. You know, Patrick, that I mostly went along with this move to Outlook so we could be together. I never really agreed with the screening or the training."

      "I know you had trouble with the training program," Patrick replied, "and Emily, Diotima, and Elbridge advised that you ought to take more time to consider this drastic change in your life. But you assured us that you were in complete agreement with everything, even though your training program test results indicated there was a possible problem."

      "Sure," Julia replied with a sigh, "I went along with the program because I'm your wife and I didn't want to split up. But my disagreement with trashing the presentations is exactly the kind of thing I object to in this so-called cooperative. You all seem to me like a bunch of hyper-rational, super-logical zombies most of the time, not enough emphasis on feelings and individualistic freedom to disagree for the sake of disagreement."

      "It's interesting," Elizabeth opined, "that your joining the community, Julia, seems to have brought out the differences between you and Patrick, whereas our joining the group has had the opposite effect of bringing Abraham and me closer together. We were somewhat drifting apart before we started studying for our effort to qualify for admission to the community." She smiled at Julia. "Do you think it would be best if you and Patrick returned to your status before you ever heard of the cooperative?"

      "Precisely!" Julia exploded. "I wish I'd never seen this town. We weren't doing great in Tulsa, but we were getting along. Now it seems I can't even talk to Patrick because he's so obsessed with this group."

      "Julia," Patrick said with genuine concern, "I respect and admire you, but I believe this community offers me the best way to make a genuine contribution to our nation and the world. I know that sounds highfalutin, but I've come to that opinion over these recent months. If you feel you must leave the group, I'll help you in every way I can to relocate to Tulsa, but I'm remaining in Outlook."

      Julia began to cry silently, her head bent over.

      Abraham took up the thread of the discussion. "We need to work out not only this issue of Julia's dissatisfaction but how we're to handle any future disagreement the group encounters. I can see now," he turned to Diotima, "why you and Elbridge made it clear that there must be a period of tentative acceptance into the cooperative before unqualified acceptance would be possible. We have to prove by our actions in these next few months that we can actually learn how to work effectively as a group. Let's take a short break before we continue."

Transmutation

      During the break, Elbridge had put together a short computer-based presentation which he now displayed on the screen at the front of the meeting room when the session resumed. As he came to each image, he stopped to allow for group discussion.

   "At the moment we're going in different directions internally. Some seem to be in disagreement on everything, even the most petty things.

   "We're trying to understand others' point of view and their motives and purposes.

   "But we seem to agree that we don't want to end in disagreement.

     

      The short presentation afforded an opportunity for the group to join in humorous exchange and serious consideration of conflict resolution.

      "Julia," Diotima asked, "does your disagreement about the presentations really point to your general feelings of dissatisfaction with the cooperative?"

      "Yes, I guess so," Julia said. "I can see that it's a waste of time to try to evangelize people who aren't acceptable candidates. I suppose it's my way of expressing my frustrations and feelings of loss."

      "Would you prefer to return to Tulsa," Diotima continued, "given that we would help you relocate?"

      "Not really," Julia responded, "but I feel I've lost Patrick and want to lash out at everybody. I apologize for wasting everyone's time."

      "You haven't lost me," Patrick interjected. "I love you as I always have, but now my circle of concern has expanded to include everyone in this group. Not in a sexual way--that I still feel exclusively for you--but I feel a bond with the others in what we're trying to accomplish."

      "And you're not wasting our time," Nina Webb said to Julia. "You're a part of our group and any agitation or confusion you feel is part of our work to resolve."

      "That's just what I mean," Julia replied quickly, "the group feels too mechanical to me. I'm used to allowing my feelings free rein."

      Elbridge joined in. "That's what we spoke to you about during the training process. In a group such as this, we have to make decisions based on facts; we can't allow irrational feelings to throw us off course. Most other groups allow people to emote just to be emoting, to disagree just to be disagreeing, for no reason. But our decisions--since they affect all of us--have to be guided by evidence and not subverted by irrelevant feelings. Yes, feelings are an important part of our life as a community--why do anything unless we have good feelings about what we do?--but their place is not in judging what relevant facts support important decisions."

      "Can you forgive me, Patrick?" Julia asked, giving him a quizzical look.

      "There's nothing to forgive, as far as I'm concerned. And Nina expresses the same feeling for the group. You've done nothing for which to be forgiven." He smiled affectionately. "But," he turned to the others, "this situation, I think we all realize, can't be resolved merely by our uncovering and discussing it. We have to unravel this entire knot."

      He turned to Julia. "I'm not trying to punish you for what you've expressed--it was very helpful that you disclosed precisely what you're feeling. But I think you realize that as long as you feel this way you're not going to be happy in this cooperative enterprise. Would you like to return to Tulsa for a time to visit your family, to work out your feelings?"

      "You may not want me to feel like you're punishing me, Patrick," Julia looked at him with a straight face, "but that's what I feel anyway. No, I don't want to run weeping to my family, I've come too far from the days when I did that."

      Unnoticed by any of the others in the group, Diotima winked unobtrusively at Elbridge. She suddenly burst out. "Well, I'm fed up with Julia's bad behavior; my feeling is we excommunicate her from our cooperative community for messing up our decision-making process. We can't tolerate any bad seeds sowing dissension among us--that's what I feel." She crossed her arms and set her face in stone.

      The others were dumbfounded at Diotima's behavior, unsure of what to make of it, since it was so out of character for Diotima.

      "You're joking, right?" Nina Webb said to Diotima. "Role-playing to show us how unrestrained feelings can disrupt the group process?"

      With her arms still folded in seeming defiance, Diotima spoke through gritted teeth: "If that's the way you want to interpret it; but I feel just that way no matter how you try to diminish what I'm saying." She looked at the group with her face set in grim determination.

      "I thought everyone agreed I hadn't disturbed the group," Julia said to Nina. "Were you lying to me?"

      "I have just as much right to disgorge my feelings as you do. And if you don't like it, that's tough!" Diotima turned away from Julia, her arms still crossed in opposition.

      Now the group really was stumped.

      "But this is crazy," Julia exclaimed, "you have no right to kick me out just on the basis of your feelings!"

      Elbridge added another image to his previous computer presentation.

      Diotima continued. "If your feelings can be the basis for your lying about being a part of this community and misusing our meetings to get revenge on Patrick for not paying as much attention to you as you'd like, then my feelings can be the basis for trying to get you kicked out! Tit for tat!"

      Julia collapsed into weeping, her hands hiding her face from the group as she bent over.

      Elbridge spoke quickly, with an even tone. "Diotima signaled to me before she began her feigned exhibition." He looked at Julia. "I think now you can feel   how disruptive and destructive undisciplined emotions can be when a group is making vital decisions that affect our very lives. Sound judgments have to be based on evidence, not mere emotion." He paused. "What do you think about all this, Julia?"

      Julia stopped crying and looked first at Elbridge and then at Diotima, who was smiling lovingly at her. "I see how feelings--mine or anyone's--can't be used as the basis for group decisions. This was a pretty hard lesson, but I thank you for it. And I can assure you I learned what I need to, as you'll see after this." She smiled at them both, then at the rest of the group members. Diotima and Elbridge walked over to Julia and took her hands in theirs.




To Chapter Six