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Don’t Avoid the Troublemakers, Bitter People, and Grumps in Group Work

Photo Credit: By Jim.henderson (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Not all Gurdjieffians are a part of a group, but many of us are. It’s how Mr. Gurdjieff worked when he was teaching.

I’ve been part of a group for going on nine years now. I’ve met all kinds of people there, some still with us, some not. One of the struggles of group work (and The Work is an ongoing struggle) is trying to function when exposed to personalities that aren’t compatible with our own. In time, though, one can learn to work with these tensions and can even make good use of them in one’s inner work.

There are other benefits. One of them is that the grumpy and bitter folks who have nonetheless managed to stick around for a long while often have some unique, and dare I say it, accurate observations about our groups. Newer folks, as well as those of us with cheerier dispositions, may do well to give a polite nod to our tender feelings and sensibilities, and then turn our heads and incline our ears to these malcontents. The grumpy may filter their observations through an unnecessarily negative filter, but their observations are often quite on point.

A willingness to listen to organizational critique is important, particularly given the tendency among some Gurdjieffians to become identified with our group or school. If we can see the traps that await us even in “beneficent” institutions, we have a better shot at awakening.

Why is this? 

I’m not entirely sure, but I do have some suspicions. For one thing, people with “difficult” personalities may be disinclined to join groups (of any type, not just Gurdjieffian). Those that do join a group or organization often leave of their own accord or are forced out by other members.  Those who stick around have often had to navigate some tricky group dynamics, as well as their own psyches. This, combined with the fact that the troublemakers may have few alliances within the group, can create an outsider’s perspective, even if the troublemaker is reasonably well integrated.

Cautions and Caveats

While I appreciate the perspectives of cranky people, that doesn’t mean we ought to put up with bad behavior, personal insults, or a barrage of gossip about other group members. Value the grumpy person’s ability to get a different perspective on group dynamics, but be wary of personal attacks on individuals, which are seldom, if ever, appropriate.1)As the aphorism at the Prieuré stated: Don’t judge a man by the tales of others.

But do listen, then verify. In the grumpiness of another, there may be material for you.


Wrestling manager/promoter Jim Cornette offers a good example of the importance of this kind of listening from outside a Gurdjieffian context:

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. As the aphorism at the Prieuré stated: Don’t judge a man by the tales of others.

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