Last week, Ruthie Ackerman’s had a question that led her to find a new community.
In Part II, why Finding Your Allies sometimes means Losing Your Friends …
… all eyes turned to her. “I was worried that I had to turn myself into a (Benjamin) Franklin expert, but it became pretty clear right away that what I really needed to do was ask the right questions,” she says. “I wrote the virtues on a chalkboard and people started bringing the club to life. A community is shapeless without the people,” she says.
The Club’s task is simple, in theory. The group spends 30 days putting one virtue into practice in their lives, then meets to talk about what the experience was like. “Chastity was interesting,” she says. “Franklin defined it as ‘sex for health and offspring,’” but the group dug deeper. “It’s also about not having sex if it harms someone’s peace or reputation, including your own.” Deep conversations ensued about loneliness, casual sex, and dating and whether the kind of perfunctory sex that married couples often have does more harm then good. Asking, how do you make sure you’re creating a deeper connection?
“We really put it out there,” she reflects.
It’s not always easy. “Sincerity turned out to be particularly hard,” she says. After a month of living the virtue, “we realized how insincere we are on a daily basis – and it’s baked into modern life,” she says. “What would our lives look like if we didn’t say those insincere things, and only said things that helped us connect superficially with people?”
It was during the Sincerity month, that Ruthie made a mistake.
One group member, a personal friend, shared some upsetting feedback she’d gotten from a peer. Ruthie, in the spirit of sincerity, validated the feedback and let her know in front of the group that she had experienced the same thing. Her friend felt ambushed. Though Ruthie apologized profusely, her friend left the group and hasn’t forgiven her.
“This is deep stuff,” she says. “We do get into emotional territory and we all do the best we can.”
What Ruth experienced is not uncommon when someone is seeking out a new community. Everyone thinks of change as “changing the world” as a good thing but in the process, you are likely changing yourself. As you change, it can be uncomfortable for those that know you as you are. You will lose some “friends.” Some of that is because you lack the skills to know what to say, using new skills, as you’re “trying on” your new ideas. Some of it is that people are freaked out, by your changing and so they are more sensitive. And so you have some altercation, or miscommunication, which makes it seem that the rift is about a particular conversation, a particular topic, but really it’s often just about change itself.
Ruth lost a friend along her journey to find new ones.
About half the group that started left within the first six months. That’s because Ruthie acknowledges, she wasn’t clear at the beginning what was being built, what was the shared purpose? Levels of commitment were not consistent and a shared vision wasn’t in place. The initial “yes” then was really a “we’ll see”. Once that settled out, the remaining committed people could go from there and recruit others “like them” with more intentionality. And that’s what happened.
The Franklin club today is especially close. “We really hold each other accountable,” using WhatsApp to check in with each other all through the month. As many as 20 messages a day are shared.
The final part of the meeting is devoted to three questions.
- Are there any projects you need help with?
- Are there any people not in this group we should be helping?
- Is there any way to pay this forward?
“That’s a big part of the Franklin spirit,” she says. “We are working together to improve ourselves and hold each other accountable, but it doesn’t mean much if we can’t take this energy, this spirit, this idea and act it out into the world.”
The group is coming up on nearly a year. What started as the “Mutual Improvement Club”, is in partnership with the 92Y to pilot what they are calling Benjamin Franklin Clubs in NYC and hopefully beyond.
“I started this club for me, but I realize that other people were looking for the same things I was.” She feels a new sense of belonging that is derived in large part from the courage it takes to be so human together around a shared purpose. “It’s awakened some leadership thing in me,” she confesses. “The things I want in my life are valid – even if I’m not an expert in everything.”
Ruth became a social era leader by doing leadership. Weird how that works, isn’t it? Where once we might have waited to have a certain role or certain moment, now it’s only important that you champion an idea, create community, and galvanize action with others. From her early championing, to giving the group some shape, to the scaling partnership with 92Y .
The toolkit is detailed, thoughtful, and ambitious. “If the pilot goes well,” she says, “92Y will help us find partner organizations around the country and create a central place where people will upload blogs and photos and content from their groups.” She now speaks about civic engagement, and has visions of conferences and events, and new conversations about community and leadership.
The rootless has become rooted. A lonely onlyness leads you to clearer self-awareness, which is good, but it is not necessarily tied to making a dent. Your onlyness is only able to make an idea powerful enough to make a dent, when it is coupled with others, rooted in a powerful shared idea.
“If we’re improving ourselves and becoming the best versions of us, it inspires people to do the same. It really is mutually fulfilling.” But along with her new purpose is a new sense of peace and a lesson she learned much earlier than Ben did. “Franklin realized on his deathbed that perfection wasn’t the goal. It was the process, and being perfect wasn’t interesting at all. People like you because you’re human and flawed.”
“I see that everyone is on their own path,” she says. “And whenever our paths cross, I see them more for who they are.”
Living out of your onlyness is an act of deepest passion. Your onlyness is your distinct contribution to a network, or community. When you let it shine, you will invite others to live out of their onlyness. And this brings out the necessary energy to make a difference. Why? Because onlyness is the building block of a new way to make a dent – a connected way.
Now you know why we were delighted when 92Y offered us the gift of time with Henry Timms. Henry knows how hard it is to build community and how vital it is for all of us.
Sometimes we talk of community and tribe in such positive ways but it’s clear that sometimes we leave some people behind in the wake of change. Have you experienced this? How did you deal with it? What stories, tips or lessons do you have to share with us, the Yes & Know community?
This reminds me of how I began changing the work I did in the health/healthcare space – I began in very non-profit, social change-y landscapes, working for that common good. I soon began to realize that often times, there is quite a bit of ego and less of the togetherness-for-one-goal that I expected. Now, alot of private sector/entrepreneurs are tackling issues in healthcare through smart business and tech and it has been refreshing to advise and work with those that have singular focus and resources to move the needle.
All that to say is, while I still have friends from the first part of my career, I’ve had to move along and change perspective in order to grow my body of work. Not always easy, but often necessary.
(great seeing you at SXSW!)
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