Small Group Social Dynamics and the Playground


Do you remember your primary school play ground?  You could not wait until recess so you could run out to the swing set, merry-go-round, see-saw, or any other playground activity kids love.  Are you sure you can remember it clearly?  One thing I have learned about my memories, are some are very clear, some are a little hazy, and yet others are so vague I can’t remember it they are mine of something I saw on TV or in a dream.  Well, the reason I bring this up is I witnessed something today that opened the flood gates of my second grade play ground experiences.  Today was our first annual Office Fest, a customer/vendor appreciation event hosted by us and meant to introduce our customers to more of our staff.  We had barbeque pork and chicken, along with baked beans, coleslaw, potato salad, cookies, beer and soda.  Around 175 people showed up, despite the bad weather.  After having one of the driest summers on record we believed today would be the perfect day for out event.  It just so happened that it rained and was fairly cool today, but this did not hamper things too much, we had a big tent for everyone to mingle under.

Now why did I begin with an analogy about school playgrounds and then lead into our company’s customer/vendor appreciation event?  Good question and I am glad you asked.  As I stood back listening to engineers and salesman speaking about things I had no grasp of, nor cared to, my mind went else where.  Never turning down an opportunity to observe people in any kind of environment I began to notice something that reminded me of my second grade youth.  I believe it was George Carlin who said everything he ever needed to know he learned in kindergarten.  Well, if you look back through your memory to those days what did most kids do?  They separated into there little groups and started talking.  There conversations revolved around who could out do the other, who could talk the loudest, and the fastest, and who can dazzle the rest into speechlessness would be the winner of the conversation, because at that age… everything is a competition. 

Many of the contractors, engineers, salesmen, and servicemen would congregate in small groups, no more then 6 people.  There conversations, while mainly work related, would have small segments of who had the fastest motorcycle, who had the best golf average, who’s kid spent the most money in college, who’s wife drove the worst, who shot the biggest buck last hunting season, who had the best party this past July 4th.  These besting competitions were no different then the ones we had in 2nd grade.  I remember discussing who had the most toys, the coolest toys, who had seen the coolest movie, who had the best snack in there lunch bag, who could run the fastest, who could hold there breath the longest, who could swing the highest on the swing set.  See… no real difference.  It is essentially a large contest to see who can out talk the others.  So if it is a contest, what is the prize?  What was the prize back on the play ground?  Same here; esteem, recognition, top billing, notoriety, and admiration. 

Now just like back on the playground, there is no way to validate the claims put forth in the conversation.  Everyone runs on an honor system.  If it weren’t true then why would you say it?  The problem is this; we know 7 year olds will stretch the truth.  Drinking middle aged men will do the same.  As the evening progressed and the trips to the beer tent increased I noticed another similarity.  As the conversations continued, the volumes increased.  Now some will say the alcohol is the explanation.  I am not for certain.  Watching a group of small boys or girls on any playground and you will see after some time there conversations and play will increase in volume and intensity.  This increase is usually directed at the one who won the boasting contest and is trying to assert his popularity as leader.  His defenders and he will challenge those who feel there wishes are being considered and will try to drown out there resistance.  I noticed 5 or 6 tables where this series of events were going on.  So I had to investigate.  This is when I had another flash back.  When kids get into a dispute and someone one of the disputers knows shows up, what do they do?  Ask for confirmation on something they stated.  Same thing happened at 4 out of 5 of the tables I made it to.  Now I am IT support, so people in the office know me only from the fixing of there PC problems… I do not know HVAC nor much about AC and R.  Yet, I would be drawn into the fray and asked questions I had no clue about, or worse off… to settle a dispute on which TV is better, or movie is worse, or which whiskey is the strongest.  Just like the kids asking a friend to back them up on there claim, I was brought in as a ringer into a conversation I had no knowledge of. 

Having taken a couple, two to be exact, sociology classes in college I know a little about small group dynamics.  I do not remember anything referring adult behavior to that of children in there earliest social experiences.  There were many similarities that, to me, seem undeniable.  Of course I mad a few trips to the beer tent myself.  I wonder if this ‘playground dynamic’ has been talked about in advanced sociology or psychology classes?  It would be interesting to see if it is discussed, what the explanation is.  It seems odd to me that grown adults behavior in a social gathering is not really all that different the small children’s behavior in similar gatherings.  I believe this is core social structure that is left over from millennia past.  It would be interesting to see if the same holds true for African, Asian, Middle Eastern, and South American cultures too.  An open ended question.  Rate on this blog, but still something along my main theme.  By observing the world around us, and opening our eyes to see the thing that hide in plain sight, we can gain a perspective that gives us the insight and information to know what and why what is happening is happening.  This allows us to either gain control, steer, or abandon the situations we would otherwise fall victim to time and time again, like most other people do every day.

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2 Responses to Small Group Social Dynamics and the Playground

  1. Sarah says:

    What an interesting observation!! How very similar the two groups are! I wans\’t sure where you were going until you explained, but that was very very interesting!! Life is full of trying to compete for social and material status. Sad really. Thanks for posting at my blog, because you reminded me of a dream fragment I had last night!! 😀 I\’m VERY glad I don\’t have to deal with iced windshields anymore…once but only once I was so foolish as to think that since I was running late for work I\’d be able to have it thaw quickly by putting whindshiled flid on it…started driving…nearly ran into someone because I couldn\’t see them. After that, I made sure to always scrape it very well. But that kind of weather that then turns hot…that\’s a bit too freaky for me, and here I thought Houston had strange weather!!

  2. Scorpio says:

    Hey, cool blog. I was referred here and am loving reading your thoughts…

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