Coalitions, Alliance, Social Media, and HR

by Matthew Stollak on Friday, June 8, 2012

Today we have a special guest post from my beloved father, Gary Stollak. Dr. Stollak, a Professor of Psychology at Michigan State University from 1967 until 2009, has written many journal articles and is the author of several books on marriage and child rearing, including "What Happened Today; Stories for Parents and Children," and "Until We Are Six: Toward the Actualization of Our Children's Human Potential." He is fond of Stanley Kubrick movies, corned beef and pastrami sandwiches, and ice cream...sometimes even at the same time.

The words coalition and alliance have both been used, mainly, to label groups of nations in war efforts, constituencies of individual politicians, political parties, and collections of business and community organizations and the groups that support and lobby for them. These words have also been used to label those in smaller and larger groups including three or more person families, and of peer groups in childhood and adolescence.  There are also coaches in sports or other activities (think of the cheerleader and choir coaches in the television show Glee), educators, and counselors who attempt to create coalitions or alliances to facilitate learning and behavior change in these groups. These terms are often used interchangeably and most of us may consider them synonyms.

To achieve one or more of our goals in life, we may be members of more than several coalitions and alliances.  We might also encourage and even pay for our children to become members of different kinds of groups (for example, a soccer or debate team, a school band or Girl Scouts) assuming that their participation would advance our goals for them as well as help them achieve their own goals.

The purposes and goals of coalitions
I assume that there are those who are the leaders and followers of many existing—even virtual—groups who experience those in another identifiable group, at the very least, as “opponents.”  I recommend using the word coalition to include those collections of persons who are active or passive members of groups (for example, financial contributors to political parties) whose goal is to defeat another group in some contest or competition. 

In some instances those in another group are despised enemies.  The word coalition also refers to those who contribute to and/or work together to defeat those in other groups who must be defeated in life-threatening battles and wars.  Throughout human history, large groups of armed combatants have come together and have invaded the homeland of others and attempt to destroy and control their population and resources.  And, of course, throughout human history, large groups of armed combatants have also come together to repel those who have invaded their homeland and who wish to control or eliminate their population and possess their natural resources.  Adolph Hitler and those who supported him were part of a very large coalition of those whose “common purpose” and goal was the elimination of persons throughout Europe (and, indeed, the world) that did not possess the characteristics of those he and others decided were “Aryan.”  Some nations have also preemptively attacked an enemy who is perceived as “clearly” planning to invade the “homeland” or the land of an “ally.” 

Sport, political, and business coalitions
The label coalition can also be applied to those involved, directly or indirectly, in significantly less (one hopes) life-threatening and, hopefully, law and rule-following sport, political, and business competitions.  At the heart of capitalism are the various coalitions and teams of executives, managers and blue/gray/white collar workers in very small and very large businesses that seek victory (for example, financial profit or elimination of the competition) in their enterprises.  There are coalitions of “fans” (those on “our” team to which they may feel a deep commitment, an intense passion, and intimacy with the lives of the individuals in the group) against members of the other team (and their fans) who are perceived as opponents who must be defeated in an athletic contest to maintain or obtain school, city, or state “pride,” or to serve “nationalistic” impulses, for example, the “Democracies” (especially the United States) against the “Communist” states in the Olympics and other athletic events during most of the last five decades of the 20th century. 

We may not just have enemies threatening death to ourselves and the destruction of our nation but many of us do have sport, political, and business opponents who “challenge” us, make us “angry,” who are “feared,” who must be dehumanized in more or less ways, described as not worthy of respect, and deserving of a literal or figurative “crushing,” “thrashing” “whipping,” and “humiliation.”  As in sports, there are also political, business and financial “contests” and conflicts and even “reality” TV programs (from “Survivor” to “The Apprentice” to “Top Chef”) that create coalitions between and then within groups with only one member of a group achieving the final “victory.”

The purposes and goals of alliances
I recommend the use of the label alliance to refer to temporary or long-lasting groups whose purposes, common interests and actions do not include responses to any real or hypothetical “enemy” or “opponent.”  For example, an alliance is the appropriate label for groups of persons who come together wanting nothing more than to “be” together, to be intimate as the only goal, to celebrate, to grieve, to arouse and maintain joy and good spirits (for example, via dancing, family and communal meals, and community festivals and parades), to engage in an activity for itself rather than to engage in a competition to determine a “winner.”  For many of us, our relationships with those in our immediate and extended families and nearby neighbors are often long-term even lifetime alliances. 

I would also apply the label of alliance to those groups that respond to accidents, illnesses, and disasters as well as to environmental threats to the lives of others including the lives and habitats of the world’s non-human species.  Sometimes the threat and enemy is “nature” or threats to the health and survival of one or more persons because of illnesses or injuries caused by accidents, physical attacks, or self-inflicted.  There are voluntary and paid groups of persons who work together to provide food and medical supplies and services to those who are needy or disabled, to protect life and property, and to help others survive confrontations with an existing or predicted threat of famine and starvation (sometimes just hunger), extreme heat and cold weather, tornados, hurricanes, droughts, storms, floods, earthquakes or fires.  These include members of rescue services and human and animal shelters, the Red Cross, Red Crescent, World Health Organization, UNICEF, Salvation Army, America’s Second Harvest, and Doctors without Borders.  Others come together to build and rebuild structures after disasters and accidents (for example, Engineers without Borders).  “Victory” is sometimes nothing more than helping others to survive for at least another day.

Cooperation and uniting of individual skills are often critical for a group, even in many coalitions, whether they are members of a basketball team, armed force, business enterprise or political campaign, to achieve and experience the thrill of victory.  However, in alliances, such as those noted above, the cooperation is directed toward the achievement of different kinds of outcomes, different kinds of victories.  As noted above, one kind of goal is solely existential, the experience of consummate Brotherly Love described by Fromm.  The sense of family and community may be achieved by nothing more than participation in bantering, gossiping, verbal play, and the pleasure of humorous and more serious discourse especially, for me, around a table of delicious food. At their best, religious and civic celebrations as well as those celebrating marriages, birthdays, and anniversaries, or traditions engaged in after the death of someone, create a temporary community, a time of reflection on the meaning of the events and people in one’s life, reminiscing about the good times, and expressing joy, thankfulness, or grief.  There is only the present to be celebrated in song and sometimes in dance, verbal and other gifts to be given, or tributes and memories shared.  At their best, there is no focus on enemies and opponents defeated and no recriminations about past slights and rebukes.  These are alliances.  Compare the memories you have of your experiences, words, and actions on such occasions to the motive, goal, and outcome of Mark Antony’s oration to the citizens of Rome over the body of the murdered Julius Caesar in Shakespeare’s play.

If there is a motto that best describes an alliance, it is “We are family” but only when it is making note that other families and other groups are not competitors, not opponents, not inferior in any way, not an enemy.  Similarly, the motto, “We are all in the same boat” refers to an alliance only when the word “We” means everyone in a family, group, community, city, state, nation or the world and that no one is to be excluded from the safety of the boat.  Some may believe that “A rising tide lifts all boats” but are not necessarily concerned about those in more less seaworthy crafts.  Many may wish for the recognition that all of us are—literally—brothers and sisters.  Many of us believe that all of us are children of an attentive and caring God. 

I hope that each of us is part of a large number of alliances as we go through the days of our lives.  How many of the smaller and larger groups we freely join are ones in which we feel intimate and safe, authentic and vulnerable, in communion and secure with, and in which the activities result in the creation of joy and beauty?  How many alliances do our children belong to?  What specific school or after-school activities that they are involved in are directed to creating and maintaining alliances?  My guess is that many of us, and our children, may not belong to more than a few.   It is also possible that in comparisons with some of the coalitions we belong to and support, for many of us, our involvement in alliances may last even longer.

Coalitions, Alliances and the Internet
            The internet has become increasingly relevant and even necessary in business, political, and in our personal and social lives.  There are “virtual” coalitions and alliances existing there too.  Visiting various website chat rooms and blogging, involvement in text- and video-messaging, including tweets, are examples of social networking and is a daily part of the lives of larger and larger numbers of older children, adolescents and adults.  Some websites and text messaging services now serve as locations that permit and encourage on-line, person-to-person interchanges, with or without photos or video.  These include Facebook, Twitter, and dating sites that may result in two or more person group meetings (even “flash mobs”) where all parties are physically present.

            All political parties, possibly every elected person in city, county, state and federal governments, and every candidate for office, has a website and uses it to be in constant communication with those interested in his or her candidacy and positions about issues…and to raise money.  It is much cheaper than phone calls, television advertisements, and direct mailing and allows immediate response to attacks from others including politicians and commentators.   Further, a very great number of dead or living public figures including actors, and musical and other artists (even fictional characters such as Sherlock Holmes) and college/university or professional sports team have websites created by public relation firms, devoted admirers, or for those still living, themselves, where they, too, can communicate with their fans and, more importantly for the present purposes, with each other. 

            Material and messages on some websites can also support and encourage hate and provide information that could be used for individual or group actions that can lead to violence, destruction, and death of others. 

            There is no doubt that using the internet and photo- and text-messaging services will be an increasingly important means to create and maintain both virtual and face-to-face personal, national, and international coalitions and alliances that will be affecting our own and our children’s lives in the coming decades.

Impact on HR
The question I have for you concerns how do HR policies, responsibilities, programs, and activities go about creating coalitions and/or alliances for any organization and how do social media contribute to helping an HR service achieve one or more specific goals?

Carpe diem!!

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