The Challenge of the 20%

“One fifth of people are against everything all the time.”

-Robert Kennedy

I was reading somewhere that communities evolve away from reason to affirmation. In the initial stages of community formation, there are many elements that serve as a kernel that the community can form around. Sometimes it is an idea. Sometimes it is a person. Sometimes it is an activity or process. In the beginning, there is a choice. You want to be part of the community for some reason.

But, at some point, the community itself becomes the draw. If you think of the lifecycle of churches, for instance, it may initially serve as a gathering place of a town, drawn together by the ideas of the religion. But, at some point, the ideas of the religion becomes less important than the community that has formed around those ideas. Then, this serves as the focal point for joining the group. It’s no longer a means of serving some other reason beyond the group itself. The community becomes the reason, and when that transition happens, what is important is affirmation. You pledge allegiance to the community in exchange for the benefits of the community. There may still be a kernel. Key people that run or support the church and enable its continuation. But, they are no longer central to why people join.

Communities can continue long after they are viable. Or, they can transform further, into something that bears little resemblance to their original shape. Eventually, it will reach a point that it needs to be revitalized, to either return to its roots or find new development pathways. You see this in major movements like the Reformation in response to the decadence of the Catholic Church during feudal times, and it’s inability to adapt to the changes of the world around it.

Some don’t have meaningful pathways for renewal. Their purpose has been served and members of the community fade away, to drift off to join other communities and lend their vitality to them.

When I think about this process, I think about the value that the 20% play, the people that are against everything, particularly the community itself. In A Rebel Without a Cause, it’s interesting to think about this dynamic. On one level, a motorcycle club or gang is another type of community, one that undermines existing social structures. But, in another way of looking at it, they are calls for revitalization, the first signs that a community has entered on the pathway toward stagnation.

I think it is this dissatisfied 20% that plays an important role as first mover, that highlights the problems in the communities they are absorbing members from and create reactions that lead to revitalization. Or, they can affirm the health of the existing system, who can marginalize and maintain community cohesion in the face of the chaotic forces this group can bring to bear.

But, in some ways, the 20%, even when they have their own communities, will always be outside them. They are against everything, even on some level the communities they are part of. They play a valuable function for the other 80%. However, it’s a more difficult way of being in the world.

The Work vs. The Job

“Many people conflate your work with your job, but they are completely different things.

Your job is the daily tasks you are assigned to complete. Many people think checking these boxes off in a timely manner is their only responsibility…

…Work is all the tangible and intangible things that happen while people are performing their job…

[For example, managing your boss is work.] Your boss pays you to handle setbacks; she doesn’t need to know about every single setback or hiccup. Constantly bringing up negative developments makes you a Bad News Bear.

So what should you do instead?

Fix the problem. Resolve the issue. Mitigate the damage. And then, once the storm has passed, work into a conversation how a setback happened and you resolved it. This way your boss sees only sunny skies.

Also, on the flip side, all good news travels up…Everyone likes to hear good news. Especially good news that they can then give to their boss.”

—Kyle, “#RealWorkTalk: Work vs. Job, Part I.” Capital Hill Style. March 27, 2019.

Strikes me as true of everyone, not just bosses. No one wants to hear about your trials and tribulations. Handle it, and be the little ray of sunshine in everyone else’s life when you’re up for it.

Are you angry, frustrated, sad or feeling some other strong emotion other people may not like? Channel your anger into motivation. Personally, I favor running until exhaustion and sleeping. Or for downer emotions, just going straight to sleep.

No one wants to hear about your problems or listen to you complain. Everyone has enough of their own issues to deal with. Bringing them up only when you need help means you’re more likely to get the help you need.