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Why join a support team?

A support team is the name I give to any on-going group of people who meet regularly (usually every two weeks) for the sole purpose of communicating honestly and openly about what currently really matters to them.

Support teams don’t engage in much small talk. Everyone already does lots of that outside the group. Rather, such teams aim for emotional disclosure, the type of information most people never reveal to anyone, or only their most trusted confidant. Such communication requires mutual trust and that takes time to build, usually many months.

Such teams don’t include a group with a spiritual focus, or set up to help people deal with addiction, disease, marital breakdown or other crisis. Such gatherings have agendas beyond simply cultivating emotional intimacy. I joined my first support team in 2000, and it is still going strong. We started with eight members and after a couple of personnel changes, still have that number. I liked the experience of the group so much that in 2011 I joined another one and it too continues to be vibrant. All members of both groups are men. I’ve also helped other men launch their own groups. I’ve had some experience with mixed gender groups too. I founded a team composed of both men and women and was a member of it for a couple years, and it continues today without me.

Members of support teams enjoy many benefits. Perhaps the most important is greater self-understanding. The more and deeper your emotional disclosure, the more you learn about you. Putting words to your feelings helps you recognize and understand them.

As other members of the team get to know you intimately through the ups and downs of your life, they also provide such insight. We all have blind spots about ourselves, and often only other people can recognize them. Such feedback can be especially powerful when several team members offer the same perspective about you. Normally we get challenging feedback through a one-on-one meet, such as with our life partner, boss or friend. But those individual viewpoints are easier to dismiss than when many voices concur.

Another benefit of such teams is the insight you get into other people. Hearing the intimate details of their lives, often for years, reveals much about not only them but also human nature in general, because of over the long term of such group disclosure, you recognize key themes that recur in in everyone’s life, such as their need for love, sex, community, purpose, contribution and more.

Team members can also be a valuable source of practical help, such as pitching in when you are moving, advising of job openings or business opportunities, and even playing matchmaker. When two members of one of my teams lavishly praised a single woman they both knew, and gave me her phone number, I impulsively called her. We spent the next five years together. I’ve also learned a great deal about the business world through hearing the details of the rise and sometimes fall of the enterprises run by team members.

For an interesting story of how John Lennon benefited from a support team in the 1970s see Warren Farrell and John Gray The Boy Crisis (2018). Farrell might have been the first person to organize large numbers of such teams. The ex-Beatle was a member of one of them in New York.

The type of interaction that goes on in such teams is roughly analogous to the connection around the ancestral campfire. For vast millennia small groups of people gathered to share the events of the day, tell stories, settle conflicts, and plan hunts and treks to new waterholes. Our ancestors knew the details of the lives of everyone around the fire. This regular and on-going group intimacy gave every participant a deep sense of connection and community.

We evolved to deeply enjoy that sense, because it was so conducive to survival on the primal plains. The deeper and broader a nomad’s social network, the more likely they survived a broken limb or an unlucky stretch of unsuccessful foraging. People who like to connect deeply tended to spread their genes while those uncomfortable with the nightly show and tell were less likely to get vital support in tough times. So we inherited the genes of people who love deep community.

But the modern world has no institution offering such intimate group bonds. Instead, we must settle for a far more tenuous and abstract sense of community, such as being a patriot, employee of a corporation, religious believer, or fan of a sports team, celebrity or even a product. Though such membership provides a primal lift, this can’t match the deep satisfaction of knowing and being known intimately in a small group, provided by a support team.

Want to join a support team? The next post sets out some issues to consider.


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