When, for the first time, you’ve brought together your new people for a dinner party or small kirtan, discussion and prasadam, they’ll probably want more. You can have a few regular meetings and give everyone time to settle down into being a member of something new. After some time there will be an important shift in the consciousness of the members. They will think more of themselves as a ‘group of friends’ and feel easy in each others company. The nervousness and over-politeness which governed proceedings earlier on will evaporate and the group will feel more comfortable in their new identity.
Of course, there are four stages which persistently shape all small groups: the forming, storming, norming and performing stages, which repeat themselves every time you bring in new members and change the group emotional chemistry. But to be the Hare Krishna ‘movement’ there must be new members brought in, even at the risk of having the group plunged into discord.
Care must always be taken that the group does not develop a culture that alienates newcomers. Its easy to do with something as culturally and linguistically different as Vaishnavism. Speaking in jargon, being overly stiff and serious, or overly friendly; studying a topic that is way beyond entrance level; displays of sentimentality; developing a cliquey, clubby manner within the group, or not providing the newcomer space to air feelings, all these are things that will put someone off becoming a member. We must always remember that there are so many spiritual groups to join now, and people have a lot of choice.
This short film, made by a Christian group, illustrates some of the different unhelpful modes of behaviour that are prominent in small groups. Watch and try to translate it into small devotee group situations you may have been in yourself.
“May God be pleased, the gift to give us, to see ourselves as others see us.”