A few years ago, I went through a very difficult break-up and thought I needed a fresh start. I got a new job and moved close to my family in Southern Missouri. I wound up hating the job and had an eye opening experience when I went to look for another. Ok, focus Beth, this is not the story I am trying to tell….

Long story short (I know, too late), upon finding absolutely nothing comparable to my previous salary, I had some time on my hands for a little while. One day while offering to donate my time to a charity organization, I stumbled across a start-up charity that was in the process of being created by an organization that was already a key player in several charitable groups in the community. Their purpose would be to find a way to get the local restaurants to donate their extra food to the local food pantries and the underprivileged in the community. From a sociological perspective, there were many different roles within the group. The local restaurants were, of course, the most important part of the organization. We needed the restaurant owners and management to agree to donate the food at the end of the day, people to deliver the food to the pantries or a storage site, donors for refrigeration systems and other equipment, and many volunteers to coordinate the people and the services that would be required.

From a psychological standpoint, my motivation for being part of this group was a desire to help my local community, which I saw struggling from lack of employment opportunities and poverty. I wanted to be part of an organization that could help my neighbors be able to feed their families without depending on government support. Anthropologically, this is also what unified our group, to help our community. I was there from the very first meeting, which was led by the founder of the organization, but his intention was not to be the decision maker of the group. He was looking for ideas and input from everyone there. Initially it was an experimental or brain-storming session, and decisions were not to be made individually, but as a group.

‘According to the American Psychological Association, good critical thinkers are open-minded, self-directed, self-starting, collaborative, tolerant of ambiguity and curious (Stangor, C., 2017)’. These traits are exactly what we needed to begin our journey. We needed to find out what exactly would be needed from all areas, financial, legal, food service knowledge, timing and staffing. It turned out to be a much larger project than any of us foresaw. There was unity among a large percentage of the group, but unfortunately, there was also a ByStander Effect. This was not from a lack of caring or laziness, but because as a start-up group, there were no guidelines and some members did not know how to start or what to do. This was one example of an ‘important theory in psychology. The Stage Theory of Cognitive Development was proposed by Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget. The theory states that children pass through a series of cognitive stages as they grow, each of what must be mastered in succession before movement to the next cognitive stage can occur (Stangor, C., 2017).’ This was the first stage of the creation of our group. We needed to master this stage and put the volunteers where they were needed and with a specific plan, then we could move on to the next stage.

This was actually the main issue that impacted the group’s dynamics. There were dozens of individuals with different personalities and cultural backgrounds. Everyone had their own idea of how to proceed and what should be done. ‘Despite the benefits of forming and maintaining coalitions, forming large groups involves challenges such as coordinating group members for joint action and ensuring commitment of individuals to group goals (Watson-Jones, R., and Legare, C., 2016). ‘Dave W. Johnson’s social interdependence theory examines how to build cooperation among work teams and classmates by creating the right conditions for the groups to truly cooperate and use each other’s strengths, rather than fail to coalesce and overly rely on certain members to do the work while others engage minimally (Froiland, J.M., PhD, 2018).’ Once this step was mastered, we could move towards our next stage.

There is a long tradition of research in the anthropological and sociological literatures arguing that rituals serve social functions, such as creating social cohesion and promoting shared beliefs (Whitehouse & Lanman, 2014). The concept that people want to be involved and they want to be involved in something they believe in and with like-minded people is still current today. ‘Social Psychology is an intriguing field that seeks to understand how people affect each other in various ways. It may also help leaders figure out how to sustain positive change by assisting groups of people to promote and support the long-term change of individuals. (Froiland, J.M., PhD, 2018)’. This research has helped me to see how important it is for people to understand their role within a group.

The psychological science uses both basic research and applied research to study group dynamics. Basic research is research that answers fundamental questions about behavior and applied research investigates issues that have implications for everyday life (Stangor, C., 2017).

Another type of research that could have been helpful in this instance is a type of descriptive research known as naturalistic research. Naturalist research is based on the observation of everyday events. In some cases, this involves the recording and analysis of the behavior of people doing the things they do every day (Stangor, C., 2017).’ From a social science perspective, our group’s initial hurdle could have been addressed by using these research methods. A portion of this research could have been completed before the meetings ever took place by asking questions about the participant’s experiences and background with different situations. Then again, at the first meeting, the naturalistic research could begin by observing the way the members interacted with one another and how they reacted to examples of possible situations. This would have cut down on a lot of participant observation.

I believe these applications can be used in everyday life. It’s important to go into a project prepared and with your research in order. When the team members understand immediately what is expected of them individually and the team as a whole, you can begin to work together towards that goal. When you have a picture of the whole puzzle, it is easier to see how the pieces will fit together. ‘The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell is a book about how small actions at the right time, in the right place, and with the right people can create a ‘tipping point’ for anything from a product to an idea to a trend to become adopted on a mass scale and a part of mainstream society (Crossman, A., 2018).’ This was the dream of the creator of this group. Person by person, decision by decision, we can all make a difference.

While I didn’t stay too much longer in my home town, I did get a first-hand look at the struggles of small town life. I was amazed and appalled at the legal hurdles that have to be jumped in order to help in any big way. This gave me a new way to think about poverty and the challenge to overcome it. There are so many people that have the heart to help others. I sincerely hope that they don’t lose their motivation because of the systems that seem determined to prevent it. If our efforts help one person, it’s worth it. Keep growing, keep caring, and keep shining.

References:

Charles Stangor. (2017). Introduction to Psychology. Boston, MA: FlatWorld

Watson-Jones, R. E., & Legare, C. H. (2016). The Social Functions of Group Rituals. Current Directions in Psychological Science,25(1), 42-46. doi:10.1177/0963721415618486

Whitehouse, H., & Lanman, J.A. (2014). The ties that bind us. Current Anthropology, 55, 674-695.

Froiland JM PhD. Social psychology. Salem Press Encyclopedia. 2018. https://search-ebscohost-com.ezproxy.snhu.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ers&AN=94895793&site=eds-live&scope=site. Accessed April 15, 2019.

Crossman, A. (2018, April 02). 15 Sociology Studies and Books You Should Know. Retrieved April 17, 2019, from https://www.thoughtco.com/major-sociological-studies-and-publications-3026649