Adult 612, reflection three

The following is my third reflection about Paradoxes of Group Life.  The other ones contained maybe a bit too much personal information for me to feel comfortable with posting. I know I seem pretty open (and I am), but there are things you don’t want on the Internet.


As the text says, I agree that the paradoxes of acting better describes chapter 7 in Paradoxes of Group Life.  When I began reading the introduction, my mind wandered into thinking about masking, a phenomenon I read about while doing research for a feminist theory paper years ago.  I searched for a while on the web to no avail, but what I remember is this: women hide their true selves in order to be the societal norm they think is expected of them.  I see a lot of this in the paradoxes of speaking: people hold back on expressing themselves because they do not want to challenge the structure they see forming around them.  However, as I will describe, being silent makes one complacent in the prevention of change.

In this program, my years as a punk rock teenager seem to come up quite often, and I thought to those years again when I read about the paradox of authority.  Question Authority was scrawled all over my notebooks and backpack.  I wanted myself and others to question the rules that society created about gender and race, but I never thought about what authority is. I loved the line “authority is something that is built or created” (Smith & Berg 1987, p. 134).  All of it is completely arbitrary, which makes authority even more powerful.

Authority is built into our society, and sometimes it is given by the people (voting) and other times, by other powerful people (CEOs or the university’s Board of Visitors).  “One develops power as one empowers others” is such a monumental thought (Smith & Berg 1987, p. 134).  I always think that one quality of a good manager is knowing how to delegate effectively.  If you think of it in terms of authority, that manager is empowering his or her employees to become better at certain tasks.  Sometimes, this will lead to promotions and good things if the person is an effective manager.

As I posted on my blog recently, I recently took a leadership role in a group that previously had no leader.  Creating authority where there wasn’t any previously was really tough.  But the authority already existed in the group; someone just had to take it.  It seems many people say, “I don’t think I should be the authority, but _____ should instead.”  By doing that, the person is effectively giving the power to someone else, and deauthorizing themselves.  I see this happening in the workplace all the time, as it seems authority is often looked at negatively.

Even though I am in my thirties, I see myself transitioning from child of Mike and Lin Koch to my own, adult person.  The paradox of dependency really spoke to this relationship.  On the one hand, being dependent was easy for me: I accepted my parents’ truths as my own and allowed them to help guide me throughout my twenties.  However, remaining united means that everyone’s voices are not always heard.  Instead of learning to depend on each other, I went to the extreme with my family to prove my adulthood.  I tried to be completely independent.  Unfortunately, that “creates its own vulnerability,” wherein it was difficult for me to find the answers to everything and I became a little lost (Smith & Berg 1987, p. 140).  Becoming an adult means finding a balance in the dependent and independent aspects of your family.  Sometimes the roles are not so clear, and will shift based on need or skill level.

I find that the paradox of creativity is one that many of us struggle with as we get older: making something new brings with it the destruction of something old.  Change is really hard and many of us hang on to the same values and beliefs, which makes it difficult to bring on change.  In the music community, the work of elder statesmen is respected and held up to almost biblical proportions.  Sometimes a band puts out a record that challenges that older work and destroys it to create a new sound.  Creatively, it makes sense to me: there has to be a reference point somewhere for music, and bands need to find their own voice.  However, the Internet is full of many vocal opponents to the new guard of music, which I think is crazy.  They believe that some records should be tent poles upon which new music should be built, not as sources to pick apart and lead someone to create something completely new.  I know this example is very odd to some, but once the book started talking about historic buildings, I saw music as a reflection of this paradox.

The paradox of courage was one that I saw in many of the other paradoxes in book; namely, the paradoxes of engaging.  Courage and trust, to me, are very linked.  The book even says “becoming engaged with a group also demands courage. To trust enough to self-disclose…requires courage” (Smith & Berg 1987, p. 147).  Finding your voice and empowering yourself to speak up requires a great deal of courage.  You must also have trust in the group that if you speak out, you will still be a member of that group.

Fear ultimately drives people to be silent.  Once in a group, you can be kicked out of that group, ostracized, or treated differently, all for speaking with personal authority.  In my undergraduate college life, I was not courageous in groups because I did not believe that I had the authority to give my opinion.  I was often so dependent on others to say the right thing because I did not know what I was supposed to say.  Being courageous is knowing that the “right thing to say” is probably a heap of bull.  I think being courageous also leads to more valuable relationships.  You can earn respect if people appreciate your bravery or the authority by which you use to state your opinion.

The paradoxes of speaking suggest that being silent, or pretending to go along with a group, prevents change.  I think understanding these paradoxes, as well as the others about which we have read, help us understand how to facilitate better groups, as instructors, as well as become better teammates.




Smith, K. K. & Berg, D.N. (1987).  Paradoxes of Group Life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


2 thoughts on “Adult 612, reflection three

  1. “Fear ultimately drives people to be silent.” – I can’t tell you how much that statement resonated with me. I am now in my 50s, and having just given a presentation to a different Adult Education class (where I was so nervous and sweating bullets), I returned home and reminisced about a time when I was younger…. a time when I exercised my voice, my personal authority, my own creativity. A time that seems, at this point, so long ago. It is interesting how certain events and circumstances in one’s life can turn someone completely around. Turn them into a person that is very much afraid about whether their thoughts and ideas are the “right thing to say” – how does one return to their former self? That is a question that has plagued me so often. In reading and understanding the paradoxes of speaking, and viewing the knowledge through the lens of my own experience, I too feel that it has helped me not only to be a better facilitator of groups (understanding myself as well as others), but has helped me be a better teammate—and enabled me to push myself further than I think I can go. What is interesting about our readings, as you noted, is that we not only learn how to better facilitate groups, but we learn something about ourselves as well.

  2. Hi Melissa – I enjoyed your post on the paradoxes of speaking, becoming independent, and finding ourselves. As someone who is experiencing what MUST be a mid-life crisis, it has been an interesting time for me to be back in school, finding my courage to speak, and opening myself to new possibilities at a time in life when I thought I was pretty much settled. I’ve been studying the pedagogy behind writing these narratives, such as these blogs, and find the sharing and reflective writing to be a wonderful form of therapy. Susan

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