I Want to Belong – Improve Confidence by Being Part of the Gang

Being part of a crowd or group can give us a sense of belonging, a feeling of identity. It can reinforce our sense of who we are. People often gain confidence from being part of a gang, it can provide reassurance that our beliefs and values, even ourselves are acceptable.

As a young person being in a gang is a way of defining their identity. Young children often enjoy becoming a member of a Brownies, Cubs or Scout pack. There is a shared bond and an automatic sense of friendship and belonging. It teaches about becoming friends and the shared responsibility, respect and loyalty that we have towards each other in these groups.

As they start to grow up, many young people feel unsure of themselves. They lack confidence in their opinions and tastes and becoming part of a gang provides a safe way to express those views. Young people often lack the life experience and maturity to have tried out their attitudes and opinions in the wider world. There is almost too much to know, too much to have an informed opinion about. And so a gang can become a safe extension of the family in which to experience aspects of life in an intensive but protected way.

For young people, problems can arise if the gang becomes all consuming. Some young people adopt every aspect of the gang mentality without having the sophistication to be able to identity which parts suit them and which do not. That can be disconcerting for family and other people they come into contact with, but for a time it is often part of stretching their personality and intellectual muscles as they begin to grow up.

Some gangs are almost sect like in their approach and can require adherence to a strict code of beliefs and behaviour. Often gang members will dress in similar clothes, have their hair styled the same way, share tastes in music and socialising. Interesting, when they have often been so desperate to get out of one uniform, only to put on another. This is often when being part of a gang can appear to be rebellious or shocking. Dress, tattoos, music, body piercings, bad language, maybe drug use, can all be a part of the gang identity and bring an excitement at appearing rather dangerous.

Security can be another factor of belonging to a gang. There is a shared camaraderie that protects and supports each other. It can provide almost a substitute family environment, as often a young person may feel misunderstood or unappreciated in their own home. The gang can take over and provide the nurturing and security needed for a time.

Often parents and family are horrified at the way the gang looks. They may seem odd, unorthodox, menacing, but that is often the attraction to a young person. It is part of flexing their muscles, prior to branching out on their own as an independent young adult. Often the young people who behave in this way are intelligent, questioning and highly motivated and turn into bright successful young adults.

Older people tend to call their gangs groups or clubs. These are often rather more formal in their set up and are often selective in their admittance policy. Members will share the same interests or outlook and gain comfort from that shared bond. A group will reflect their values and provide a sense of security and acceptance. It reinforces their sense of who they are and their place in society.

Groups for older people often bring together people who have a common need or interest. They provide an outlet based on sport, a desire to do business together, marital status or personal development requirements and the benefits that come from belonging. These groups may have a membership requirement and a code of behaviour attached so that members can feel comfortable about the standards of behaviour expected from each other. That reassurance of respectability is an important factor in many cases.

Chicago’s 2012 Murder Rate Tied to Drugs, Gangs and Personal Conflict

Chicago’s 2012 murder rate has been a constant fixture in the media this year, with reports of deadly shootings occurring nearly every day. Most of the shootings are related to interpersonal conflicts between rival gang members, and drugs often play a central role in these altercations. But despite strict gun control policies in the Windy City, it seems that drugs and gang-related conflict will continue to fuel Chicago’s murder rate, begging the idea that it’s not gun control Chicago needs: it’s drug control.

Chicago: A US Hometown War Zone

As of June, 2012, the number of homicides in Chicago since 2001 numbered more than 5,000. 2001 was the first year that American troops entered Afghanistan, and since the inception of operations there approximately 2,000 US troops have been killed. These numbers indicate that Chicago’s homicide rates are more than double the rates of troops killed in an established Middle-Eastern war zone. (1)

How could this be happening in a city with more than 12,000 police officers? The answer lies in Chicago’s long history of gang wars, going all the way back to the Prohibition and mobsters like Al Capone, Bugs Moran and Dion O’Banion.

Over the last 70 years gangs have remained a part of Chicago, and although gang members and styles have changed, primary sources of income have not, with drugs being the most important source of gang revenue. In the 80’s and 90’s Chicago’s gangs were mostly young black men ruling over a vast and well-connected empire buoyed largely on sales of crack-cocaine.

Fortunately, Chicago police were successful in cracking down on gang leaders and fracturing gangs into less powerful and seemingly disorganized groups. However, this strategy seems to be at least partly responsible for the current high rate of gang-related homicides considering that there are now more gang factions in the city than ever before. And because the manufacture and sale of illicit drugs is still the primary source of gang income, violence is often not far away. (2)

However, many people believe that it’s not gang wars specifically that are directly causing the high rate of murders. Although the deaths often involve gang members, the shootings are generally not about “gang business” – at least not initially. In a story for Chicago Tonight titled: Are Chicago Murders all Gang Related? Natalie Moore uncovers a concept of gang-associated homicide that goes something like this:

*Gang member #1 feels slighted by rival gang member X over an interpersonal conflict
*Gang member #1 makes derogatory remarks about rival gang member X
*Gang member X retaliates by shooting rival gang member #1 and anyone standing nearby
*Soon after, gang members supporting gang member #1 make a retaliatory attack on the rival gang
*Retaliations alternate back and forth, sometimes culminating in multiple, separate but connected shootings throughout the course of a day

In the process, innocent bystanders are sometimes shot and killed, and police often erroneously cite their deaths as gang-related. (3)

What law enforcement efforts have made clear is that the binding glue of Chicago’s splintered gangs isn’t fraternity or respect, and it definitely isn’t a sense of security. It’s all about drugs. Using drugs together, selling drugs, manufacturing drugs, engaging in crimes to procure more drugs; this is the moral fabric that many gang members are cut from.

The reality is that most gang related killings aren’t worth the offense supposedly committed, indicating a populace that is hasty and paranoid. Add drugs to this picture and it’s easy to see how things get blown out of proportion in the Windy City.

(1) Chicago Homicides Outnumber U.S. Troop Killings in Afghanistan Huffington Post 06/16/2012 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/16/chicago-homicide-rate-wor_n_1602692.html

(2) Belkin, Douglas Chicago Hunts for Answers to Gang Killings The Wall Street Journal 07/12/2012 http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303644004577520863051001848.html

(3) Moore, Natalie Are Chicago Murders all Gang Related? Chicago Tonight 09/25/2012

Team Building Using Your Water Cooler Gang

Very rarely do we as leaders acknowledge our water cooler gangs. For the most part we have taken great strides to limit the grouping of individuals around, or in, a common place for very long to just chat. But, even though we have tried through building pantries, varying break times, monitoring staff time usage more vigorously, this small group just seems to be there. And, for those die hards that still meet we more or less just ignore them.

What is a Water Cooler Gang

The unique feature of a water cooler gang is that they don’t have the normal caste system that is found in other parts of our business or organization. They are comprised of members of all departments, staff groups and general workers throughout your business. The other unique thing about these groups is that they seem to be drawn together as information seekers and sharers, not for a specific purpose or limited time.

The gang is primarily composed of an information seeker, an active listener, a negative personality and an information sharer as well as members who change roles depending on the subject being discussed.

Using the Gang for Team Building

This group of people shares information throughout your organization faster than any newsletter, email or verbal distribution method. Because they come from all different departments and groups across the organization, the information that they get from their group “meetings” is shared with staff across the board. For the most part these individuals are not gossips, however they are speculators. If you are not getting accurate and timely information to your staff, the water cooler gang will speculate on the most logical answer to a question based on the input of the entire group.

Water cooler gangs were the original model of team building. People of different job classifications, skills and abilities working together to gain new, or more information and then distributing and sharing that information with their co-workers. One of the perks of using these groups is that it is not only extremely cost effective but, when directed properly, an excellent tool in your team building efforts.

What Do the Water Cooler Gangs Talk About

These folks talk about anything and everything that affects your business, their job or changes in the company. This can be very detrimental if at least one member of the WCG does not have accurate and updated information or reasons for why certain events are taking place. For the most part if there is a knowledge gap the WCG will collectively fill in the gap and many times the speculation that results from filling in the gap is the “fact” that gets to your staff and employees before the official announcement that you may have been working on for weeks.

The WCG does not meet to complain, they meet to problem solve and share information. This is to your advantage and can be very helpful in both team building and implementing change management.

How to Use Your Water Cooler Gang Effectively

Whether you have one WCG or many, this is an invaluable resource for knowing what is going on in your company and spreading news throughout.

The first step, as leader is to identify who the members of each WCG are. Once you have identified them, invite the information seeker/sharer(s) to join your Team Building Group as well as any committees that require personal buy-in from your entire staff. This person(s) will be able to bring ideas to the table from throughout your business as well as share concerns and questions that may not have even been identified at the management levels yet. The added perk to this method is that you will be able to dispel some of the negative speculation that inevitably arises when staff are not kept informed throughout an organization.

Your WCG member will take accurate information back to the gang, who will then share that information within their areas of the organization. In addition, the WCG member can bring questions and concerns back to the committees and many of the problems which become negative deterrents to change management or team building can be addressed before they become problems. If nothing else the member can at least share that an issue is being addressed when a committee has not yet made a decision which will dispel the speculation factor.

Utilizing your Water Cooler Gangs actually provides two positive results for you with minimal effort on leaderships’ part. First, we are acknowledging the existence of these groups and the fact that they are not going to go away. Secondly, we are proactively working with the groups in an inclusive way to address concerns, share information and include them in the leadership process in a totally non-threatening way.

Conclusion

By acknowledging the existence of informal employee groups, such as the water cooler gangs we are proactively including a vital component of our company in our implementation efforts from the bottom-up. This action, in and of itself, will promote active participation and buy-in from your staff and will afford you the opportunity to discover the unique take on information sharing that your staff actually have on your change management or team building efforts.

If you would like information or assistance with marketing, team building or your website maintenance please email our team at the address below.