Posted by: swhee1er | November 2, 2013

The great balancing act: cohesion versus conformity

This week’s installment of This American Life concluded with another interesting wrinkle in the Scott Walker saga.  Though the effort to recall the Wisconsin governor failed, its aftershocks are still being felt.  Instead of Democrats hurling accusations at Republicans, or vice versa, this time Republicans are pointing the finger at members of their own party; namely, those who signed Walker’s recall petition.


What separates these incidents from the standard charges of being a RINO (Republican In Name Only) is that some of the accused are not actually moderates, but conservatives who decided to break with their party and sign the petition for their own personal reasons.  Yet this seemingly isolated gesture has now become a litmus test for determining who is a true conservative and who is a “liberal, pro-union Democrat.”


The perils of such a practice are obvious.  Perhaps the greatest utility of a group lies in the variety of its constituents, as the multiple viewpoints they bring to the table ideally lead to a discussion in which an optimal solution is either selected or generated.  By ostracizing constructive dissidents and, consequently, enforcing the silence of others through their example, they mistake conformity for consensus.  Predictably, this ideological winnowing narrows the potential range of responses, which in turn reduces the likelihood of the group arriving at the best possible solution.


The issue of balancing diversity with efficiency is one I’ve articulated previously, and after some consideration I think the answer lies in leadership.  Leaders should serve as facilitators, gatekeepers, and referees, steering the discussion toward a resolution while encouraging the genuine openness that such a conversation requires.  Is that a lot harder than it sounds?  Certainly.  But I would argue the benefits far outweigh the inconvenience.

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