Recovering from Failure Carves Paths to Action

Erika Summers Effler

in Laughing Saints and Righteous Heroes

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print April 2010 | ISBN: 9780226188652
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226188676 | DOI:
Recovering from Failure Carves Paths to Action

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This chapter explains how both groups in this study survived collapse by reestablishing involvement or attracting new involvement. Their negative experiences served as emotional warning signals, so evolving strategies became ancestors of earlier struggles and failures. When the groups failed, they experienced the opposite of the emotional dynamics associated with success: contraction and low levels of enthusiasm. In response to failure, the groups developed emotional techniques for recovering and avoiding future draining interactions. The story about the Catholic Worker community illustrates how after each struggle that ended in failure, the Workers redefined what it meant to live up to the Catholic Worker ideal of taking personal responsibility for the poorest of the poor. Despite their continually changing expectations, the community survived as a center of action with a coherent history by courting grief as an indirect route to laughter and mystical awe. Both laughter and mystical awe provided release from routine conflict and frustration over their sense of inefficacy. The story about STOP describes how internal conflict followed closely on the heels of STOP's early popularity, eventually contributing to the breakdown of the group. STOP's director renewed involvement by attracting new participants and shifting the group's focus to expanding its networks and influencing electoral politics. Thus their strategies lagged behind their unfolding contexts. The comparison of the two groups suggests how such groups can harness the intensity of threatening emotions, like grief and horror, to stabilize themselves.

Keywords: Catholic Worker; STOP; negative experiences; involvement; emotions; politics

Chapter.  26423 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Organizations

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