Whiny activists make my blood boil

Attention Conservation Notice: Free-form whining about people who just want to whine (yes, irony noted), of weak strategy muscles and bureaucratic “bungling”-that-isn’t. Of interest primarily to people who’ve been engaging/following recent discussions about meetings, social movements and recruitment/decruitment.

Reaching for the sky just to surrender
Went to a meeting tonight that I was responsible for, insofar as I had previously suggested we could/should talk about our implicit models of how change happens. Turn-out was low (possibly due to meetings clashes, holidays etc, or perhaps because people don’t like to theorise, or bring their implicit models out into the light?). Anyway, it quickly became apparent that at least one of the new people was – disease of the times we live in – terribly lonely and wanting to get the attention/affirmation lacking by, um, being quite random/Roger Irrelevant. Chair was (rightly, I think) reluctant to try to move things on.
My point? That it’s easy – so easy – to get stuck in complaining. I suppose, in Transactional Analysis terms, to stay a child and look for a Powerful Parent to praise or blame. Even – especially – when we are supposed to be examining ourselves. Instead we whine.

Our strategy muscles are so weak
I am part of a ‘group’ (loose affiliation) of people struggling to adapt business strategy to the messy business of social change. Fool’s errand? Wrong tools? Maybe. But the journey will – or might – be worth it. The recent second meeting was less satisfying than the first. Partly because of a change in personnel. And maybe our expectations were too high after the ‘success’ of the first one.
We (well, I!) am so impatient. “Too quick”. And I resent the hijacking of portions of it by people who are just – imho – being random and selfish and haven’t done the fricking work. Not to be judgmental of course…

The ecosystem approach.
Have just read in the Financial Times of the failure of the Michelin “drive on a flat tyre” product. The writer made the point that it all hinged on enough garages installing the new and expensive kit, but that it wasn’t in their interests, so the product failed, and Michelin looked like greedy stupid muppets. Michelin had focussed on the quality of the specific product and that customers seemed enthused, but ignored the “ecosystem” of suppliers etc. Imho, it would never have happened if they had studied Peter Senge’s “The Fifth Discipline”!
My point? How on earth can “we” change the culture of ‘activism’ (fool’s errand? wrong task?) when there are so many interdependencies and – if you take the Transactional Analysis line – dependencies? We might (and I do intend) to “train up” (and learn from!) dozens of people to increase their repertoires around meetings, event reports etc etc. To what avail if they are simply in dysfunctional smugospheric/ego-foddering/Parent-Child (mis)organisations? The lament of activists for ever…

You can’t fight City Hall
An idea for Improvement that I came up with and sent to the Relevant Authorities actually made it to Stage Two a while back. (Stage One is where it sinks without trace). Stage Two is where they are publicly supportive and make a series of promises and then… kick it into the long grass. And when you point that out, they call you paranoid or unhelpful, or invoke “time constraints” or “pre-election purdah” or whatever. And it’s asymmetric reputational risk, always. If an NGO or campaigner were as persistently rubbish as the bureaucrats, then – even in the smugosphere – they would eventually lose credibility. But because of the whole “public servant” thing, and the legitimacy of bureaucracy (thanks Max Weber), the egg never ever sticks to their faces. It just slides off, until the next time.
Elephants don’t tapdance. They don’t even waltz.

Finally, I’d like to say thank you to – in no particular order – Sam, Adrian, Leavergirl, Antonio, Johnnie, Viv, Ruth, Rosemary and other contributors to posts of late. I may not agree with you, but that could easily because a) I haven’t understood what you’ve been trying to get across and/or b) I am not (yet) at a place to accept what I have understood. Or c) I may be “right”, but that doesn’t mean you’re “wrong” and what lousy lousy terms these are to be using.


About dwighttowers

Below the surface...
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One Response to Whiny activists make my blood boil

  1. Sam Gunsch says:

    @ Dwight re “And I resent the hijacking of portions of it by people who are just – imho – being random and selfish and haven’t done the fricking work. Not to be judgmental of course…”

    Allowing working meetings to remain open to people chronically unprepared or who take a ‘random’ approach over time is too damaging on balance to morale of the people actually doing the work.

    My volunteer and staff life over more than a decade…Builds resentments over time, unless everybody in your group has enormous spare Buddha-like capacity. It will drive away some people who have a lot to contribute but not the time to share with the needs of the universe.

    So again, I’m a been there, done that on this one…

    I was administrative staff for 3 years to a board of directors which was a ‘working board’ of volunteers. 8-10 core hard working people with busy personal lives.

    We tried for a time being open with our policy/working meetings to allowing potential new volunteers to sit in… people who were interested in learning about the issues we were working on and might get involved. We did it with the view that it could work as a supplemental recruitment strategy, assuming people would gradually work their way in to participating in discussions when they felt they could make productive contributions.

    After maybe 2 years with about 8 or so meetings per year at the time, we voted to revert to invitation only, despite the protests of some board members who argued for hanging in and being more tolerant of diversity of styles.

    It was too much for most of us… crazy at times. Too many people showed up wanting a sympathetic audience to hear their personal anguish about XYZ aspect of environmental issues and drag our organization over to their particular issue. And right now. Too.
    I recall some people actually actively resisted attempts by the chair to bring them back on topic.

    We sometimes not so subtly invited these individuals to attend actual work projects, like signing up to attend fundraising events. Ended their participation usually.

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