Team North Shore only has five jokes. That’s one of them- saying that we only have five jokes. We repeat jokes that aren’t particularly funny over and over again until we form a sort of shared language and history through repetition. For example- I once said that I’m not very good at keeping in touch with people, that I don’t really care what my friends eat for breakfast. Now, anytime long-distance friendship or any sort of companionship comes up, someone will invariably mention that I won’t even care what you ate for breakfast. It’s not funny. It wasn’t funny the first time, and it doesn’t get any funnier each subsequent time it is shared, but nevertheless, we continue to repeat the same jokes over and over again. (Did you know Abbie was in a movie on Netflix?) What the jokes do is begin to form a culture around the language.
Our team started off a little rocky, as we struggled to figure out our group dynamic. We all came to this work with very different experiences and expectation. For a while, we weren’t so much a team as a group of people who were working and living together. We cooked together, ate together, read together, but when we weren’t yet a cohesive unit. Ultimately, this made it very difficult for us to be the most effective we could be as we didn’t yet have strong relationships to work off of. A few weeks ago, when walking back from the laundromat, Shreya and I had a moment of despair. We had just read Ben Weilerstein’s blog post I Like my Team, and were frankly feeling a little bitter. I told her I didn’t know if we would keep in contact afterwards, and that we’d have to be okay with that. We were resigned to a life of general friendliness, without any real cohesion.
Somehow, in the weeks following that walk, our team has come together, and I think part of it is because of the jokes. We began to have a shared history around which we have begun to build a culture and language. When we say the same things over and over again (did you know that I have a family friend in Gloucester?) we create a more cohesive unit. We probably aren’t the funniest team or the loudest team or the most creative team, but we have 5 jokes. Building relationships is about much more than repeating the same silly phrases over and over again, but it’s been really exciting to watch as our language has evolved as the group has become more of an entity. Only now that we have begun to move as a team are we able to do our best work.
Perhaps what I’ve learned most this summer is that organizing is slow. Building relationships takes time; figuring out how to work with people takes time. It’s really hard to reconcile the slowness of what is at the heart of organizing with the urgency of climate change. There is this constant battle between efficiency and true deep connection. We form meaning out of shared history, shared language, and that process can take years to build. I don’t think I have any answers to this conflict, but now I think I have a much deeper understanding of some of the root difficulties associated with organizing.