Synthesis in group process

Sometimes it happens in a group discussion that I feel at cross-purposes with everyone else. The process I want to see happening is not the process they are assuming. I get the urge to stand up on a chair, wildly flail my arms and say “Stop! Hold on a minute! What are you trying to do here?”

Hopefully they are listening, not interrupting and giving one another a chance to say his bit. In addition to this, if the group is empathy-minded they’ll listen carefully, check for understanding, reflect on what’s been said and get clarification. All of that is still not what I envision. There is a different model of discussion I have in mind.

Before I describe my model for group discussion, consider the functioning of an individual carrying on an internal conversation with himself. If he is functioning optimally he receives input from a variety of sources. He is conscious of values that he can potentially fulfill. He is aware of the ramifications of his actions. He tunes in to his feelings. He is capable of shifting his perspective at will to his own wishes, to the needs of others, to a higher calling and back to his wishes again. He can zoom in to focus on just one aspect or another of reality and zoom out again to see the big picture.

We applaud the individual who manages to take it all in, register all the various kinds of information from all the various sources and then come up with the one right course of action for the situation.

Where conscience is functioning well, absolutely everything is accounted for. In place of ambivalence and confusion that arise when one sees conflicting values, for this person there is clarity. With a view from above, values are no longer in conflict. He recognizes one value is higher than the rest in this particular situation. He has no question about how he should respond. He has synthesized all of the information and come to an all-encompassing resolution.

As an aside, it is for this reason that I venture to say the parallel concept to conscience in logotherapy is da’at in Judaism, although there are probably fine points that distinguish between them.

The individual’s internal discussion is parallel to group discussion. I would suggest that similar to an optimally functioning individual an optimally functioning group will synthesize all of the various perspectives and information that comes from those perspectives as if the group was a single organism.

It is no wonder that I feel at odds in groups sometimes. I might have something to say that is not a fully-formed thought. I don’t want to hold back because of this, because together we can finish the thought. Even if I am able to articulate my idea with clarity I’m not interested in a one-man show – not of myself and not of anyone else.

I want a group to be an organism, a whole, an entity with critical life-sustaining organs and limbs like a living body. One thought uttered may be unfinished but it can be picked up and interwoven with other thoughts. I long to say: “Let’s look at this. What does it mean? What can you add to the focus, and you, and you? What can we create together from all of this?”

Now that I’ve come to this realization about myself and I understand that this is an important part of who I am I am motivated to use my inner impulse towards synthesis as a reminder to myself. I don’t have to sit there and be frustrated. I can elicit synthesized thinking in a group and encourage brainstorming. I can introduce a radically different model of group discussion and invite the group to try it out. Since this is so important to me, apparently it’s my responsibility to make it happen.

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