Norming: finding/defining our own ways
Norming is a group's third and final preparatory
task, the last threshold any group must pass before it can begin to
work towards its chosen goals.
This threshold is a formidable one
for Pagans, because "norms" are a lot like "rules.Ē We like to think of
ourselves as spontaneous, irrepressible, free spirits. When we gather
into groups, we yield some of that cherished autonomy.
In the professional literature on
groupwork, the word "norm" is used to mean group members' mutual
expectations, guidelines about how to behave and a way of predicting
the behavior of others. Every human group has norms; like power
relationships, they are inevitable. Like power relationships, they are
also often covert. Like power relationships, they can support or impede
our work. But no group can survive or function without norms.
Norms definitely include
ethics, but they go far beyond that. There's no particular ethical
reason to drive on one side of the road or the other. The choice is
completely arbitrary. But if we don't all drive on the same
harmful collisions will happen. Some group norms are as arbitrary, and
as necessary, as that.
Some norms are implicit, silent,
perhaps even unconscious. Norms can grow organically from the group's
experience without ever being explicitly stated. But implicit norms may
also spring from old family habits and cultural assumptions, useless
and often obstructive.
Implicit norms are also difficult
for newcomers, who can only hope to learn them by observation. Too
often, people discover implicit norms by transgressing -- which
can be embarrassing. This keeps long-standing members in a constant
"one up" position, not healthy for them or for the newcomers.
Other norms are explicit,
consciously chosen, openly known to all. Some are compiled in written
documents and given to seekers and newcomers.
for group norms
As a group in formation develops their
starter set of norms, they can draw from many sources. Here are some:
upbringing and cultural background: We all have some idea
of what is
polite behavior, appropriate grooming, and so forth. In simpler times,
this was a pretty good starting point. Today, as we try to work with
people from diverse cultural backgrounds, hidden assumptions from the
dominant culture can act like booby-traps. We need to be perceptive,
sensitive and flexible about our manners, even as we hold to our values
important: Pagan groups are places for willed magical and spiritual
self-transformation. We are here in large part because we were not
satisfied with the values and customs of conventional society. So,
letting unquestioned cultural programming shape our group norms seems
of prior internal conflicts: During the storming phase, there may
have been barely acknowledged struggles for control of what gets done
and how. These struggles shape what we do and how we do it. Covert
norms, like covert leadership, are profoundly disempowering to the
precedent: Lineage based groups
inherit a written
and oral tradition. Self-generated groups may develop documents and
anecdotes of their own, which are presented to later-joining members.
These explicitly stated norms are at least clear and fair. At best,
they embody what our predecessors learned from their own experiences
and wise reflections.
However, they may also be
excessively limiting. Precedent should be thoughtfully considered, but
not enshrined as dogma. In a healthy, living tradition, every
generation learns, grows and contributes, so group norms are constantly
adapted to changes in the group, the community, and the world.
experience: As groups go on, they encounter, and
resolve various problems and situations. Our memories of what worked,
or did not work, before will guide us when similar situations arise in
leader: In my discussion
of the storming phase, I described the multiple
sources of a leader's authority and power. Influence over what gets
done and how it gets done obviously includes influence over the
development of group norms. Since this power cannot be avoided, it's
best to use it consciously and responsibly.
In new groups, where the members
are relative strangers, the coven leader's influence is naturally
multiplied during the early days. The group gathered around the
leaderís original vision. While the others are still engaged in forming
and storming, the leader may be distributing handouts or offering
classes on ethics and etiquette. Far more important, however, is
quietly demonstrating appropriate behavior. Leaders are role models;
what they do, especially in this
formative period, will set the tone for a long time to come.
Occasionally someone gets a flash of insight. This may come in a dream
or during a formal divination session, or at any other time. It may
come to the group leader or to any member. Much of our work, after all,
is preparing ourselves to receive such gifts. Like precedent (or like
the information on web sites like this, for that matter) such
information should be respectfully considered, but not automatically
followed. None of us is a perfect channel. Instead, we are collectively
responsible for interpreting, weighing and integrating inspirational
information just as we do information from any other source.
of group norms
Just as they arise from a variety of sources,
group norms apply to several different facets of group life. Here are
some types of norms:
< procedural norms define how
done in a group. This ranges from administrivia to core ethics. Are
guests welcome, and under what circumstances? How do we manage the
group's expenses? What should a member who has to miss a meeting do?
How do we make decisions and resolve conflicts? What are our standards
of confidentiality? Do we sit on the floor or in chairs? Does our cup
hold fruit juice or wine? Do we want to admit new members after the
group is underway? Do we use recorded music in rituals?
norms are about both the style and the content of our interactions.
Communication style is an important part of identifying where we are.
One local coven, for example, uses only highly stylized, formal
language during their rituals. To make this possible, they thoroughly
discuss whatever work they intend to do in a pre-ritual briefing. They
also hold their classes outside of Circle to encourage questions and
discussion. In Proteus, in contrast, we discuss coven business and do
all teaching within Circle. We use ordinary language for such
discussions. That means that, for us, language style is not an
indicator of whether we're in sacred space/time. Neither of these
right or wrong, and a member of either group can easily adapt when
visiting the other.
Content is even more important.
Any group will have norms governing appropriate levels of
self-disclosure under different circumstances. Consider, at a business
meeting, when somebody asks "how are you?" in greeting, whether they
really want to know your diagnosis. Unusual amounts of self-disclosure
are necessary for growth groups, and this in turn requires
correspondingly high concern for confidentiality.
Deviation from group expectations
concerning self-disclosure is far more disconcerting than stylistic
difference. Once, years ago, at a Hunter's Moon ritual, we were each
asked to tell about a time that we experienced ourselves as either
Hunter or Prey. All but one of us did. That person, a guest, recited a
poem about the hunt instead. The poem was beautiful and beautifully
recited, but still not her own. By acting as a performer rather than a
participant, that person shattered the trusting atmosphere for all
present, deadening the remainder of the rite.
norms encode a groupís understanding of what success means. This
will vary, depending on their chosen goals. For a training group, the
requirements for Initiation and Elevations are achievement norms. For a
group that has undertaken to publish a magazine, it might be meeting
deadlines and adhering to production quality standards.
Some typical norming questions:
Learning/teaching style: do you use
a highly structured
curriculum, laid out by the teacher or derived from their tradition or
lineage, or are you self-directed learners? Is your teaching style
directive or student-centered? If you have a structured curriculum,
what does it cover?
Ritual style: does your
worship tend to be relatively
more shamanic or ceremonial? Do you work from an inherited script or
create your own? If you use scripts, are people expected to memorise or
read? Or do you work extemporaneously? Also, do you tend to stay within
a particular ethnic pantheon?
3. What is your
group's decision making
style: authoritarian, democratic, or consensus-based?
4. What kinds of
demands do you make
of your members or students? How often do you meet, and for how long?
How much "homework" do you require of your students? In your group, do
members typically spend a lot of "extracurricular" time together?
5. Does your
group has a group project or task? If you do, how are tasks assigned
and coordinated? How time-consuming is this work?
6. Is your group
single-gender or mixed
gender? Do you work robed, street-clad, or skyclad?
Pagan groups nurture members'
growth. As people change, their relationships necessarily change. So
it's not at all surprising that our basic operating procedures, our
norms, will also evolve. Neither is it surprising that, as our insight
deepens with growth, we might come to understand how some of our
initial, implicit norms are working against our goals. To keep the
groups vibrant and creative, we have the right and responsibility to
clarify, adapt or outright change our norms
You can go back to
Judy Harrow, HPs, Proteus Coven
© 2006, by Judy Harrow
the address of this page is: www.proteuscoven.com/dynamics/norming.htm