The Washington Post
Politically based affinity group is insular, dysfunctional. Should I jump ship?
Dear Amy: I’m a member of a politically based affinity group that is going through a lot of dysfunction; it all boils down to an insular, cult-mentality kind of vibe.
Our group refuses to cooperate with anyone who doesn’t share our exact (very niche) politics.
However, we’re supposed to be a political education group, so this attitude really bogs us down, especially when we’re also dealing with weekly events, a high-maintenance guest speaker (who’s now canceled because he didn’t find our proposed event “fun”), conflicts over branding in our newsletter, activist burnout and more.
One member in particular gets under my skin; she doesn’t want to promote events due to fears about law enforcement showing up, even though the events in question are literally discussion groups.
I’m the point person for promotion, but I can’t do anything because my fellow organizers think small ideological differences equal mortal enemies.
We have to coalition-build to meet any of our goals (especially because we’re going for a significant societal change). Members are aware of this in theory but get ornery whenever I try to propose this.
I brought this up at a meeting, and it turns out that most people agree with me and think we need to reach out to the community; there are just a few very outspoken people who don’t.
When new people show up at meetings, members are polite but standoffish. What should I do to help those people see reason and get my affinity group off the ground? Or should I just get off this slowly sinking ship?
— Organizer With a Problem
Organizer: I think you should stage a coup. You should review the group’s mission statement or statement of purpose, and if this is in conflict with the way the group actually operates, you should raise this publicly, suggest specific changes to the way the group operates and ask for a vote.
State your case clearly and passionately. Continue to advocate during meetings. And if you don’t see significant change, then yes — you should found or join another organization that aligns more closely with your goals for communication and inclusion.
Dear Amy: I have osteoarthritis in my right-hand fingers, maybe due to years of shaking hands as part of my business. When the pandemic hit, I was glad that people became aware that shaking hands spreads germs, and most people stopped doing it. Now, we seem to be moving back to the practice of shaking hands, and that can be very, very painful for me, because of my arthritis.
Sometimes I do shake hands (hoping that the other person has a gentle handshake), and sometimes I hold up my hands and say, “Sorry, I’m just getting over a cold.” Sometimes I just offer a “fist bump” instead.
What’s your opinion about me going “fist bump” full time (without explaining to the person that I have arthritis?)
— Hurtin’ for Certain
Hurtin’: While I love a good fistbump, I think that offering it without explanation could bring on a lot of physical awkwardness while you convey what you are trying to do.
I need to question your choice to lie about why you can’t shake hands. Telling people you are just getting over a communicable virus is not your best option. I have witnessed elders with arthritis get physically hurt by a well-meaning and enthusiastic greeting (hugs and handshakes).
It’s hard to wince your way through a hearty “hello.”
You might try holding both hands up in a “pause” gesture while you say: “I have painful arthritis in my hand. Can I offer you a gentle fist bump instead of a handshake?”
If you say you have arthritis, this might make people more aware that others are similarly challenged. If you don’t want to disclose this, you can say, “I’m going full-on fist bump. Is that okay with you?”
Dear Amy: I was so disappointed in your response to “Anxious Aunt,” whose niece was going to be married in Europe. You really fell down on the job. You should have advised her to get herself to Europe for this wedding … with bells on! — Disappointed
Disappointed: This Anxious Aunt did not want to go to Europe. She didn’t want to go.
I do try to encourage people to step outside of their comfort zones, but if a person writing to me states clearly that they don’t want to do something (and their reasons are completely logical), then I think it is most respectful of me to take them at their word.