The lesser known of the fight or flight theory is my companion, freeze. Freeze tells us not to combat the problem or to run away from it, but to stand motionless while it happens. Normally these three appear during a conflict or an attack, but recently I’ve experienced it during group activities in WILL.
I suppose first I should say that I don’t feel threatened in the groups that I’m in. I trust the women I’m surrounded by and I value what they have to say. But in any group, there are different ways to handle situations and different people will tackle the same goal in a number of ways. If there’s a timed project, like completing an activity, certain personalities might excel while others fall back.
We had a project to finish and a certain amount of time to do it. It was hands on and involved some level of craftiness. The group immediately split into those who were not crafty and not interested and those who were. I know how to sew, so I grabbed some thread and got to work.
I’m wondering now about other dynamics that might have been at work. The half that started initially was a little slower, a little thoughtful. We weren’t paying much attention to the time, but we were communicating with each other. What piece should go where? What color scheme should there be? Can you pass me the thread?
Rapidly (from my slow, crafty perspective), the dynamic of the group changed. There were only 10 minutes left to finish the project and we hadn’t gotten very far. The other half of the group took charge and I could feel what they were thinking. ‘We have to get this done!’ Suddenly Duct tape was sealing fabric together and my quilting heart cried.
And I froze. I completely shut down. I stopped working. I heckled the ugliness of the creation from my dark, dreary corner of the room, clutching my forgotten needle and thread. But I was watching them, and I noticed a couple things. Communication changed. It wasn’t verbal anymore; they were communicating by moving pieces and taping them down and by issuing suggestions, ‘move it over here!’ ‘This needs to line up!’ but they were rapidly completing the project.
Time ended and there it was. Essentially, it was finished. All the pieces had been put together, but I was not satisfied. I didn’t feel represented or heard and I left feeling gross. I thought we could have done better. But I definitely learned some things.
As a leader, as someone who values congruence and “walking the walk,” maybe I could have spoken up and fought through my frozen feelings. I could have said, ‘wait a minute, you’re excluding people and it’s making me feel uneasy.’ But also, how much better would this project have been if each half of the group had contributed equally from the beginning to the end? I was obviously moving too slowly to finish on time, but I was trying to include as many opinions as possible. If I had teamed up with someone who wanted to finish quickly, our project might have satisfied more people in the end. Being a leader means more than completing a project. It means making sure you’re in tune with the needs of your group.
Amanda Cramer is a senior Psychology major with a minor in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.