When individuals work closely within a group, a strange thing starts to emerge over time. It’s known as the “narcissism of small differences”. Freud coined the term in 1917. It describes the nitpicky behaviors of minor factions who are, by in large, in agreement but still bicker. Sound familiar? In every case, the underlying theory suggests that the struggle is rooted in identity.
Good groups share core beliefs. But people in the group have to disagree on something, even if it’s just matters of style. These arguments matter to the individual because we each need to find a way to contribute without being consumed under the group consensus.
The best groups find ways to give these arguments space to breathe while also moving forward. It’s an intricate dance.
And don’t be worried by the amount of disagreement. Many healthy groups act like old married couples, bickering regularly. The amount is not much of a measure but the depth of disagreement is. Great groups seem to have a mix of both, some driven by individual expression (the bickering) and some driven by group discovery (the deep debates).
But to return to today’s theme, the hallmark of a good group is one in which these individual expressions (minor quibbles, regular soapboxes) are tolerated at least and even celebrated at best. This is inclusiveness at it’s finest. It might get annoying at times but the right mindset turns the whole thing around from the narcissism of small differences into the beauty of small differences.