There’s a theory regarding group dynamics that offers that in any group of people — a class, a team, a cast, a workplace, a family — everyone will take on the personality “type” of one of the Seven Dwarfs from Disney’s Snow White. One will be a know-it-all Doc. One will tend to be Sneezy, announcing ailment or physical discomforts. Another is Bashful, reluctant to share. Someone will be a little Dopey, not getting it. And so on. I’m usually Doc, often Grumpy, sometimes Happy.
An interesting thing about this model is that while we may have a natural inclination to a particular role, the group will tend to adjust to make sure that each of these perspectives always gets represented. If the person who is usually plays Happy isn’t present, someone else will step in, probably unconsciously, to offer the voice of cheer and optimism. If the regular Grumpy is out, you can be pretty sure that someone else will be in a bad mood to cover for her.
Since hearing this idea a number of years ago, I’ve experienced the truth of it in a lot of different contexts. It’s fascinating.
The other night at a class I’m facilitating, I found it funny to notice that we started out with about 80% Grumpy Docs at the table. At first I was like, “Hey, that’s my part!” But then I slipped into compensatory people-pleasing Happy, and fairly quickly we all adjusted ourselves to our more usual diversity of viewpoint and temperament. It ended up being a lively, rich, and enjoyable discussion.
The subject was Grace. Divine Grace. Which tickled me a little bit, because it seemed an unlikely topic to provoke contention and irritation. I mean, how sweet the sound, right?!
But then again, maybe not. Now that I think about it, Grace can be totally annoying. Uh oh, here comes Grumpy again…
I’ve got friends and family all over the country who are going through a lot of challenges. Relentless stuff. Two-steps-forward-three-steps-back stuff. I tell them, “You’re not alone, everybody’s feeling it, we’re all right there with you…”
Some of it is economic stress. And political. And climate. And injustice and inequality. And the fact that we’re struggling to feel our way back into togetherness and still experiencing uncertainty and frustration around it. And that ALL the blooming things wrong with the world are on loudspeaker through our devices every waking hour of every draining day. It’s damned exhausting.
Most of us are still managing to muddle through pretty well, most of the time. We get by, some days better than others. This in itself is pretty impressive, and we probably don’t give ourselves enough credit for the resilience we’re demonstrating. Sometimes it feels like a colossal achievement just to keep smiling, when the news we wake up to each morning is so discouraging.
Considering such circumstances, we might very well call ourselves heroic even to be getting by at all. Still, it’s not the most satisfying of feelings. Getting-by sure doesn’t feel like flourishing. I can’t tell you how many people have said to me lately, “I’m tired of just surviving, I want to be thriving!” True dat. No wonder folks are grumpy.
So I’m thinking about this — sustained, collective difficulty. And Grace — the boundless and eternal giving-ness of the Divine. And how the heck to reconcile those.
Some of it may be attitude. Attitude and outlook. And gratitude. Grace and gratitude come from the same root word, after all. So, yeah, I can practice trying to put my attention on the positive rather than the negative. Counting blessings, etc. That can help.
Part of what brings out the grumpy, though, is when it feels like SO. MUCH. WORK. Having to keep searching for silver linings around these stormy clouds, when what we really want is a clear blue sky. Gimme a break, Graceful Universe. Some sustained ease for a while. A couple of weeks without anything tragic on either the personal or global scale. Right?!
But it occurs to me that maybe this paradigm, this way of thinking about it, may be the very thing that keeps me tangled up in knots about it. I think I could use a new relationship with Grace.
- Because if I’ve got it that Grace is the antithesis of hardship, then I’m always going to experience a frustrating lack of Grace, because some amount of trouble is pretty much guaranteed. If thriving is always the opposite of whatever merely surviving looks and feels like right now — thriving is always on the other side of these problems — it’s never right now.
- Even if I think about Grace as an ever-present divine gift that simply tends to get obscured by temporary (or even illusory) circumstance, still I’m setting up something in the way of my experience of Grace. Those freakin’ clouds keep getting in the way of thriving, of flourishing.
- And, worse, if I take it on like that’s MY fault, a failing of MY consciousness, MY problem… Like my enlightenment would be easy-peasy if I could just get over myself and learn to look beyond the conditions, rise above them, and remember the perfection and wholeness that is the spiritual truth of this and every situation… If I’m not experiencing Grace right now, that’s because I’m looking at things wrong… Grrr.
What if, instead, Grace was the idea that there’s nothing wrong here. Ever. No matter what.
Maybe not just the idea of that, but more so actually allowing that to be my relationship with the world, my take on my life. THIS IS GRACE. THIS RIGHT HERE IS WHAT THRIVING LOOKS LIKE.
And I don’t mean putting a positive spin on objectively shitty circumstances, or trying to silver-lining them, or even needing to be anything but grumpy in them. “There’s nothing wrong” includes my attitude, whatever it is. And neither does it mean that I have to like it, or resign myself to this being as good as it gets. It just means accepting wholeheartedly that these are in fact our conditions, this is the hand we’re being dealt, this is the world we’re living in.
Resistance doubles-me-down on “something’s wrong.” So how might I approach it all more powerfully?
My quick answer is: heck if I know.
My longer answer involves a lifetime of asking the question over and over, trying different approaches that different situations seem to call forth. I will say that I’ve found that when I can get myself into a “nothing wrong” instead of a “something terribly wrong” mindset — that gives me more solid footing from which to take whatever next steps I choose to take.
I can’t wait to be with you this Sunday, May 15. With the inimitable Patty Stephens. Service at 10:00 am at Maple Street Dance Space. XO, Drew
©2022 Drew Groves