By Cindy Bauer
Are groups worthy of joining? Why not, you ask. But let us analyze what groups do that is worthy of our joining, and what they do that warrants our separating ourselves from them?
First let us understand that groups have specific purposes and serve the interests of their members. Groups attract individuals who seek some benefit or advancement that are provided by the group.
Each group has a definite positive advantage or benefit that it enables or bestows on its member or adherent. The overall number of members in the group generally increases the individual benefits that the group can provide. Large numbers enables it to serve its causes. Hence via its vast numbers, a group has the inherent ability to able to do much more than an individual is capable of doing.
As an example, we are all familiar with political parties. By vast number of their constituents, they are able to enact laws and provide for the common welfare of its members. By banding together, the group has an identity and with it, it achieves a strength beyond that of its individual and separate members.
In Judaism, we find a corresponding grouping. We find groups for all forms of thoughts, deeds, and actions. We have political activists, religious activists or movements, and we have political movements or parties. Synagogues, temples and shuls are groups. We have groups that band together to do chesed, self-help and neighborly help, we have loan societies that provide free loans and we have groups that visit the sick, maintain medical help services and even loan libraries.
Each group, from whatever spectrum of groupings that Jewish groups can be found, has as its purpose a specific positive task. Along with its specific task, it also realizes the importance of new members. Therefore to increase its ability to carry out its task, it recruits members and supporters. Each member derives a specific benefit from the membership.
As an example, in a religious group, the individual member while giving strength and support to the group to further the group goals, he receives in return from the group a benefit. This benefit may be financial, spiritual, and educational or even a feeling of "goodness." Never the less, a benefit is received by the member and a benefit is given to the group.
We must realize that it is difficult to say about any Jewish group that they are void of any Jewish values or intrinsic good. Each group that exists, exists to fill a void and express a need that many individuals share. Through filling and sharing, the group is able to extend its influence, attract new adherents, and expand and grow.
In most cases, however, there becomes a point where the benefit that the group gives to the adherent and the needs of the group come into conflict.
Since groups have specifics purposes and therefore they are limited in that benefit which they bestow on their members. When a member has grown in that which he lacks , which was his original rationale for joining the group, then he, as an individual, must make a decision whether to leave this group and to seek his present needs in another group.
A group sensing the lost of its member realizes that its power comes from the membership. A dwindling membership means a loss of power. A member is an asset to a group; lost of a member is a serious threat to the group's ability to realize its goal. Hence it becomes incumbent on a group to not just attract new members, but also to hold on to those members that it already has.
Herein is the problem.
When a person feeling that he has benefited from the present group and has satisfied his individual need for personal advancement, he looks to other groups that he feels can aid him in his need to grow. It is very possible that the former group will try to dissuade his change. For if the membership moves to another group, then the first group is weakened. Hence a concerted effort is made to convince members to remain in their group, whether by social pressure, financial incentives or personal incentives.
Each group has its "personality" - its values, its social circle, its goals. Yet each person must develop his personality and character. Each person must strive to improve and advance in his own particular path.
A group need and goals are not the same as an individual's needs and goals. There becomes a turning point in which every one who desires personal advancement must reexamine and reassess his personal situation. Does remaining connected to this group provide me with personal growth or am I just tagging along because of the incentives that they offer me to remain true to their values?
Hence it is very important for the individual to be cognizant of his personal long range goals versus the specific short range benefits and importance of the goals of the group. When a group commands adherence to its values and demands sacrifices of the individuals personal values and goals, then membership must be cancelled.
A healthy person is one who is capable of improvement and that often requires changes. Therefore, the affiliation to which he needed at one time must be reviewed based on the progress that he has made in the group and in light of future progress.
Very often the needs of the group, which require subservience to its goals, must be subserviated to the needs of the growing individual.
from the June 2004 Edition of the Jewish Magazine