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Steering in the Esangha


Two precedents inspired me in starting an Esangha: the traditional Buddhist idea of a sangha, and the idea of the a women's support group. I've never been in a real-world sangha, but I have read precepts they use; there are some links here. I have been in women's support groups, and I trained in how to create them.

When I started SkyDancer, it was simply the bibliography.When women responded to it, I corresponded with them, and a few of us kicked around some ideas. So trhe present Esangha came from my vision, and theirs, and the combination of many others'.

Leadership in a collective

My vision was of a group in which everyone took responsibility for the group as a whole — that is, we shared leadership. This is an inspiring goal; people tend to like it. However we have little experience of doing it in our culture — rather we are encouraged to depend on people in authority. So even when we have decided to share responsibility, some people take responsibility, others don't — and that inequality leads to two kinds of problems.

On the one hand, a leader can slip into a habit of using power in ways that are not appropriate to the group. (This happened to me; see Size & Process.) Joreen Freeman, in The Tyranny of Structurelessness, examines this problem in detail, and warns about leaders who seize power intentionally.

On the other hand, a leader can become a scapegoat. The question of focus provides a common occasion for this. One member of the current esangha — Julia Milton — described the situation:

"On most lists, the moderator is (in the final analysis) responsible for bringing the group back into focus whenever discussions veer off topic, or become inappropriate in some way. But it's a difficult responsibility sometimes, even a burden, because s/he can easily come off looking like the "heavy" ... especially if other list members fall silent when an off-topic posting appears.

When this happens, and the moderator objects, the other members often respond by saying they want a looser mandate, namely more inclusiveness — either because they can't bear the idea of exclusion (of either people or ideas), or because they really want a wider framework of discussion. Now, a relaxation of focus may well be advisable, but it does mean that the list's identity is being changed from its original mandate. The moderator will be especially sensitive to that fact - and also feel some anxiety about it. After all, it's normal for the moderator to remind people of the reason the list was created, and to be in favour of its original mandate. You could say that it's her/his institutional role ... and often a rather thankless one."

Though I'm not a "moderator" because I don't screen every posting before it goes to the list, I do find myself filling this role of visionkeeper, and it does get me in trouble.

Keeping a sense of humor

I have decided to think of all this as a paradox, one of those facts of life that seem self-contradictory. My list-manager's koan.

© Copyright Catherine Holmes Clark 2000 last updated 27 February 2000