THE LOCAL GROUP: MORE THAN FOOLING AROUND by Peter Baldwin
Volume 3, Issue 3 May 1966 of "The Promethean". On the benefits of LRY's organized chaos for youth.
No other living creature is as thoroughly dependent upon the care of its parents when first born as the human infant and no other living creature appears to contain such a rich variety of potentials for ultimate freedom from the rule of instinct. We say that every human being is unique, that his or her life may in our kind of society move in any number of directions. We place premium value on the person who, after having been offered basic care, explores inborn potential and works toward becoming what he or she is capable of becoming. Our philosophy of man tends to be a philosophy of becoming, thanks to the new third force of psychology which emphasizes power of the conscious mind and the force of attracting values rather than the power of instinctual needs and the compulsive force of ego-centric values. During childhood the human being identifies himself as a child in a child-parent relationship and operates within a familial orientation in which he is for the most part dependent upon parental figures. At first the human child depends upon parental figures for all his needs, he must move during his childhood years from the point where his physical needs have been provided for, where he has been made to feel welcome in this world, accepted and valued, to the point where he protects himself, accepts himself and others, provides for himself and others and finally, attains a sense of personal connection and collaboration with life. He needs, in other words, to move from predominant dependence upon parent figures to relative autonomy; he needs to exchange his child-parent identity for a parent-child identity.
This does not happen automatically or in a social vacuum. Nor does this happen within what might be called familial community experience alone. There are two kinds of community which a person must experience fully and effectively in order for this transformation to take place: familial community and peer community. In order for a person to become an effective parent and responsible, productive member of the adult community, he must first experience sufficient gratification as a child in relationship with careing parental figures with whom he experiences and from whom he can appropriate basic trust in life, belongingness, self respect, direction, ideological orientation and personal connection with life. Simple appropriation, however, is not enough. The person who merely operates as a parent when parenthood is thrust upon him after the fashion of his parents is not an authentic parent; he is still a child dependent upon his parents, pantomiming a role appropriated directly from them. For a person to become an authentic adult and a parent in his own right, he has to remove himself some distance from, although not altogether away from, his child-parent familial orientation. He needs to test himself out in another kind of community, an age and interest peer community. As a child, one's peers are not one's parents and with one's peers one finds relief from the frustrations of the child-parent familial setting and companions with whom one can test out what one has appropriated from parents, explore one's own approaches and rehearse things to come. It is with one's peers that one explores one's different selves. And it is with one's peers that one rehearses for one's ultimate role as a parent in a parent-child relationship in places of the old role as child in the child-parent relationship within the familial community.
LRY offers a peer group experience for children in their adolescence. A group of LRYers shared with one another what they had found and what they valued most in their LRY experience. One said that she felt that it was with her LRY experience that she had begun to feel a part of the church itself. Another responded that for her the most important experience was finding that she belonged with the other LRYers; this was for her a feeling of belonging not experienced in quite the same manner anywhere else. A third put in that more than belonging, he felt he was accepted, with all his idyosncracies. Still another added that what he liked most was that he felt needed; he knew he was missed when he was absent. The last contributed that what meant most to her was to be part of a group of people searching together to work out the puzzling questions of life. There is clearly a need on the part of some LRY'ers to derive from their group experience where, they feel, they are stifled and their imaginations inhibited. They enjoy "organized confusion" at their meetings which delights them for all of its chaos. In this very clearly adult-oriented culture, many of our young people need peer group experience as relief from adult structuring and a chance to explore the nature and possibilities of their own generation.
What about this "organized confusion"? They create a community and an organization for themselves and then, more unwittingly than wittingly I am sure, confuse it, and derive great satisfaction from the confusion. Take one group for an example. It has a regular attendance of thirty-five. Now that's quite a sociological accomplishment, thirty-five people arranging their lives in such a way and determining to spend two hours a week in a particular place. And this if more than a gathering; they have created for themselves a group. There is organization. There are beginning and ending times; there are elected and appointed leaders, and there is even the appearance of recognizable program and planning. And yet, when asked whether they accomplished very much in the measurable sense, they confessed "not very much."
I asked their president, "Do you conduct business sessions?"
"Do you complete your agenda?"
Consternation all over his face. "No."
"Do you have serious programs occasionally?"
"Do you feel you get very far in your discussions?"
"Why don't you quit your post?"
Astonished. "Quit? Good heavens no!"
When asked what kind of relief they find when LRY meets, a group replied in chorus:
"From school, from home."
"Are school and home that dreadful?"
"No, they're not dreadful really. It's just that my whole life save for LRY is a great big organized production. Shall I go through my schedule from morning to night? Never mind? You can imagine? Very well then. I like school, and my parents are O.K. but when it comes down to hard facts, when the world says, 'jump,' I have to jump, and how can you really fight it? As people have been saying for a long time, 'How can you fight city hall?'"
These young people find relief when LRY meets from 'authoritarian' demands upon them from the adult world which they feel they cannot fight. And so they create for themselves their own community with its authority structure and channels of communication which they then use, I venture to say, more unwittingly than wittingly, as a substitute for the adult dominated communities - school and home.
"Much as I love my parents, I'm scared to think that I'm going to turn out just like them. I'm terrified by the effectiveness with which one generation can imprint its patterns and sets upon those of the next generation! And when adults hear us complaining about their generation they say, 'just you wait; you'll turn out the same. When you grow older and have to fact the realities of life, you'll see things the way we do.' This simply terrifies me; it can't be that way. We're going to have to be different." The younger generation can be different, but only if they can enjoy while they are young relative distance from the dominance of adult patterns and perceptions. And this is why young people need opportunities to create for themselves in their local group and at their federation conferences a community within which they can review, test and explore. LRY offers young people a rather impressive range of opportunities week after week in local meetings, in between meetings with one another, from time to time at special conferences and summer camps: to explore ideas, struggle with personal, social and religious questions, develop a sense of who one is and what one is about and grow increasingly able to develop rich relationships.