Group Think — It Doesn’t Necessarily Involve Thinking at All

I’m a knitter.

This is a fairly solitary occupation, in that you don’t need to be part of a team to do it, and it’s fairly doable to get good at this without classes, seminars, workbooks, DVDs, and weekly meetings.

We're such social creatures. The first thing we think about, when we start a new interest, is finding a group of others to do it with. Photo credit Steve Henderson

We’re such social creatures. The first thing we think about, when we start a new interest, is finding a group of others to do it with. Photo credit Steve Henderson

And I am fairly good at it; I make what I create, and have developed a respectable wardrobe of sweaters, socks, lace shawls, hats, and scarves, all because I knit on a regular basis and I continuously challenge myself to learn new things.

Despite this sensible attitude, I underwent a moment of insanity when I considered joining a knitter’s association and subjecting myself to a series of steps and lessons and requirements, all with the goal of earning a piece of paper announcing to the word that, according to this group, I am a qualified knitter.

What kind of job I can get with this piece of paper, I don’t know. Theoretically, I am supposed to come out of the experience more skilled than I am now, but I think the process would drive me nuts, since involves knitting 3 x 3 inch squares — absolutely PERFECTLY — in various patterns, and sending them to distant reviewers who pass or fail me based upon that perfection. I cannot wear 3 x 3 inch squares.

Some people — perfectionists come to mind — thrive on this type of thing, but I don’t. Which made me — and especially the Norwegian Artist — wonder why I was considering the experience at all.

Knitting is a fairly solitary, contemplative occupation. Riverside Muse, original watercolor by Steve Henderson

Knitting is a fairly solitary, contemplative occupation. Riverside Muse, art print from Steve Henderson Collections.

“You hate groups like this,” he reasoned. “Why are you even contemplating putting yourself through the process?”

“I don’t know,” I replied. “Maybe because I’m fooling myself into thinking that the group will enable me to advance, even though I’m advancing just fine all on my own.”

I’m not the only one with this misconception. It’s pretty universal that, when we acquire an interest — in knitting, cooking, walking dogs, making compost, brewing Kombucha, anything — we eventually look for a group to join. And a magazine to subscribe to.

“The more skilled members will teach me,” we reason. “That’s why the group exists.”

Actually, most groups exist for the group itself — for the regular meetings, the newsletters, the dues, the advancement process from one level to the next. In years past, we have belonged to art associations, 4-H, religious organizations, educational groups, non-profit establishments — and rarely have we received more than we put in.

Generally, the less organized the group, the more we have benefited from it. A hodge-podge of people, interacting on a basis of equality because they are more interested in each other and their common interest than they are in the organization they have created, is a worthy, workable endeavor. But this isn’t what most groups look like.

While this grumpy, anti-social attitude flies against society’s injunction to “work together as a team,” the one significant, workable example of teamwork that has existed since the beginning is one that society is regularly set out to destroy: the family. It seeks to replace it with substitutes: our “family” at work, our “family” at church, our “family” at school, our “family” anyplace at all other than our home.

Our homes and hearts are big enough to invite others in. Captain's House, sold, by Steve Henderson

Our homes and hearts are big enough to invite others in. Captain’s House, art print from Steve Henderson Collections.

And although yes, it’s true that some people’s families aren’t of the quality that they should be, this is no excuse to eliminate the institution and replace it with substitutes. Better that we invite someone with no family into our own than that we push all of ourselves into artificial groups.

Do you knit? Write me, we’ll swap stories. It’s highly likely you can figure out what’s challenging you on your own, or, if it’s really bad, by finding another knitter who can walk you through it. But a weekly meeting, or monthly dues, or a yearly seminar isn’t going to push you through to learning as much as you yourself will do — because you’re smart, creative, independent and able to do so much more than you think you can.


About This Woman Writes

Carolyn Henderson is the marketing manager of Steve Henderson Fine Art. She writes about life, art, and the art of life.
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15 Responses to Group Think — It Doesn’t Necessarily Involve Thinking at All

  1. Margie Welniak says:

    Another reason I find to enjoy my association with you! I am a knitter, although I don’t find it necessary to join an association to tell me I’m good at it. I’m too afraid of the “holier than thou” feedback you get from some of those women and men. Besides, my mom tells me I’m good, and the gifts I give are accepted with oohs and aahs so that must mean something. Right now I’m doing more crocheting because I found some interesting patterns. Have you seen all the cute baby slipper/shoes that are crocheted and knitted? I’ve never made any of those and have a request from a dear friend and new grandma for a cute Mary Jane style for her 3 month old granddaughter. First I have to find a pattern – after that, you may have an SOS in your email from me…

    • cabinart says:

      There is a pattern for the cutest felted slippers that are sort of a cross between Mary-Janes and ballet shoes. Look up French Press Knits, or look on Ravelry. They are so stinkin’ cute, but are for adults. Maybe Margie can make a baby version. . . There are patterns on the side and a little picture of the slippers with a BuyNow button.

  2. Margie — so good to connect with a knitter! I love to knit — the possibilities of what we can make are endless. If you find that cute mary jane style slipper — I want a pattern for that for a grown up!

    You are more the welcome to SOS me, and if I can’t help with technicalities, I can make sympathetic typing noises and offer my sincere consolation. The baby isn’t going to gripe about what you make her!

  3. lovelaceii says:

    I love knitting too and I feel the same way as you about groups. I would rather have the interaction with others who are like minded rather than a “program”. BTW: I read your post about the kamut grain. I’m interested in trying it ’cause today’s wheat in any form spikes my blood sugar. So, my question is, can you use it as a replacement for today’s wheat products in recipes? Really enjoy your writings. Keep up the good work. I also have a blog for my poetry. I just posted one on the wonders of reading.

    • lovelaceii — what a lovely poem! I have shared it on my This Woman Writes facebook — and I agree with your sentiments on reading. It does, indeed, take us beautiful places.

      Kamut and other ancient grains wheat, like spelt, are just that — forms of wheat, and you can replace them for the modern stuff. You won’t get the same textures or tastes, necessarily, but you play with it — for example, the french bread will be much denser, somtimes dryer, than what you get with even whole wheat of the modern type. There’s this “fluffy” aaspect of the new stuff that is really pleasing, but not in exchange for, as you observe, the health reactions. Just play with it — add more eggs, or a little more oil, more sugar, until you get something that you like, and don’t worry about approximating what you get with the modern stuff, because they really are two animals.

      Thank you for reading my blog and passing me on. I am most grateful. — Carolyn

      • lovelaceii says:

        I hope your reader enjoy the poem. Each verse is a haiku. Thanks for the compliment.

        • lovelaceii — I went back and revisited the poem, with the information that each verse is Haiku — that increased my enjoyment even more! (and I passed that information on to my readers — I love Haiku. I love the imaginative way of expressing oneself within the confines of certain “rules” — like sonnets.

          • lovelaceii says:

            Most of my poems are haikus. Also, if you scroll back far enough I have one called “Cats Delight” It’s about the pigeons on my window ledge. A lot of the poems are love songs too.

  4. Poppy Balser says:

    Carolyn, I am a knitter, recently returned to the fold after years of not knitting. I am relearning all sorts of techniques. I don’t really mind if I am considered skillful at it, I just find the time that I spend with needles and yarn soothing. Making something tangible, practical and beautiful with with time otherwise spent idle (waiting rooms, in front of the TV) is very satisfying to me.

    I really enjoy your blog and love the Norwegian Artist’s paintings. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with the world at large.

    • Thank you, Poppy, for your kind words. I’m glad that you are enjoying your knitting — I wonder if, like me, you find yourself being covertly observed, and then openly approached by people in waiting rooms? “What are you knitting?” It’s such a great opening line, and a great way for strangers to talk to one another. Somehow, when we’re reading, we leave one another alone, but a person knitting is an invitation to engage and get to know one another. I really like that.

      I’m glad that you like my blog and the Norwegian Artist’s paintings — please pass us on. He is an independent artist who makes his living by people purchasing his work through our studio or website; I am an independent writer — we appreciate people letting others know about us.

      Happy knitting! — Carolyn

    • cabinart says:

      Poppy, your comment reminds me of when I was learning to knit a few years ago. I was knitting in a waiting room, and when someone asked me what I was making, the only thing I could think to say was, “A mess”. Many progressively less weird sweaters later, I can now confidently reply, “A sweater!”

  5. Dianne Lanning says:

    You’re right, once again. I’m a knitter too. Sometimes there are things that take a demo, but usually there is a book somewhere that explains a solution or a stitch so I can do it. We tend to want to be with others, we’re told we a social animals. But too often this is the chance a leader (bully) has been looking for to be in control. I find in knitting, as in art, due to it being a solitary occupation, it works better to sometimes be with a loose group of like minded knitters/artists who just want to paint/knit with company. One of our local libraries sponsors such a group for knitters, which is great because the “leader” position is taken by the Library, knitters can simply knit, and chat if they want. In painting there are local plein air groups, especially good for women, to go out to new locations. Some of the local Town facilities have drop-in painting times where you can paint together indoors. These acknowledge the need for artists to sometimes have company and sometimes convivial support, while getting a painting done. You might say a (not so) clean, well lighted place for art.

  6. Dianne — I like that — Leader/Bully. Not always, of course (we have to offer these caveats, don’t we?), but quite frequently.

    Like you, I like the loose knitters’ groups, and your library situation sounds ideal. You can chat if you want to, knit if you want to, flip through People magazine and look for a pattern of a tight knitted dress that you will never, never wear anywhere.

    Those are the types of groups I like and can deal with!

  7. Pingback: It’s Not Abnormal to Want to Be Alone | This Woman Writes by Carolyn Henderson

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