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Ways in Which All Our Groups Are Somewhat Alike (1)

"There is nothing strange about our government groups. They all do their work in the same general way that our family, church, and other face-to-face groups do.”

* You have already learned that the American Nation is made up of thousands of groups of people. Some of these groups are very large. Others are as small as a single family. In very early days two or more persons often found out that by working together they were stronger than when each person acted alone. Perhaps it was in lifting or dragging a large log that two or more persons learned that the strength of a number working together was greater than that of the same number getting in one another's way. In fighting wild beasts and in building stone forts, men learned to work in groups.

In your own life you see groups coming together to help thresh grain, to talk about some difficult public question, to sign a petition, or to build a new house. All about you are groups of people working and acting together. Sometimes these groups are working together to earn a living in the best way they can. Sometimes they are coming together to hold services in a church, or to attend a town meeting and talk about government. There are also the groups who live together in neighborhoods, local communities, villages, towns, cities, States, and in our great Nation.

There are also many less carefully planned groups. If you go to a movie, you see many people coming together just long enough to see the show. If you go to the park, you see little groups having picnic suppers or playing games. And if you visit a hospital or clinic you find groups of nurses or doctors talking about sick people. Everywhere

about you there are groups. Added together, all of these groups make up our entire Nation. They are the means by which we get together to work, play, worship, and live. Sometimes some of these groups are unfriendly and fight each other. Sometimes they merely work against each other in trying to win an election. This happens when our political parties try to elect different candidates. Some of these groups go on and on for a long period of time, while others may gather for a few moments only.

Has anyone ever tried to help you understand certain simple things about all of these groups? There are many features which all of them have in common. If you can understand the ways in which our groups are alike, you will have gone a long way toward understanding our National, State, and local Governments.


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We are now ready to make a list of the basic factors which most groups must have in order to get things done.

1. Groups almost always have some authority. This gives them their right to exist and do their work. Some member or members must use this authority to tell the others how to work together.

2. Groups almost always have some objective (purpose) for which to work.

3. Groups almost always have some kind of organization through which to carry on the work. Groups operate through this organization to fulfill their purposes.

4. Groups almost always have contacts (are in close touch) with other groups. They work closely with other groups in order to get things done.

5. In most groups all of these factors are governed by certain principles and standards agreed to by the members

of the group

You will want to consider these points one by one to see if they really do exist in all group life. Remember the key words will be (1) authority, (2) objectives, (3) organization and operation, and (4) contacts. All of these must be thought of in terms of the group's (5) principles and standards.


No matter what group you think of, you will find that some person or persons in it must have the right to say what shall be done. Someone must have the “last word.” In the home, for example, the children know that their parents have the final authority. In case of disagreement, the parents have the final say-so or last word. In our Nation the final authority belongs to the whole people.

In some groups the final authority is in the hands of a single person. This single person has the power to decide every question for the group. When a group has a single leader who has the power to make decisions for everybody without any argument, the authority is called autocratic. The authority in some foreign governments is autocratic. In such a system of government the people discuss the government and find fault with it much less often and more secretly than they do in countries where there is a less strict kind of authority. In a dictatorship the people must obey the final authority. They have no right to tell the government what it cannot do. The people merely follow. They do not rule or limit the government.

In some groups a very few persons hold the authority. In such a case we have an oligarchy, which means “the rule of the few.” Perhaps you know of a group where a very few members seem to have control of the entire group.

In other groups the final authority belongs to all of the members of the group. We call such authority democratic, which means “the rule of the people.”

You are trying, perhaps, to decide what you would call the kind of authority to be found in your church, in your social club, or in some foreign country about which you know. Of one thing you may be certain, whether it be across the ocean or in your own home, there must be enough


authority given to one or more persons so that the group can do its work.


Groups often delegate authority. In most groups the members keep the final authority in their own hands but delegate it (pass it on) to someone specially chosen to do certain things. Even in a discussion group like your own,

a someone must have the authority to act as leader. Someone must state the questions and divide up the work.

In your neighborhood schools certain authority is given or delegated to the principal and teachers. If this were not true, you would think a long time before you would send your children to that school. No one would be answerable for what happened to them or for what was taught to them. No one would call the pupils together or give them work to do. No one would give grades and promote pupils. There would be riot and confusion. In the schools to which you send your children you want the authority so delegated that you will know whom to see or call if anything goes wrong. You want someone to be in charge and to be responsible.

You may have a group in mind in which no one seems to know who is in charge of things. Perhaps there is delegated authority in the group, but it is difficult to find. Unless the group more clearly delegates its authority, it is likely to become weak. Someone has to be found to take responsibility, for responsibility and authority go hand in hand. If the president of a neighborhood improvement club has the responsibility for making his club a real power for good, he must be given authority to work out programs, to assign duties to members, and to call them to account if they fail to do their part. If the traffic policeman is responsible for the safety of persons at busy street crossings, he must be given the authority to order traffic to “stop” and “go.” If you happen to hold an office in one of your groups, or if you are the chairman of a committee, you have been given (delegated) a certain amount of authority. If you hold no office at all, as a member of the group you


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still have some responsibility. You should see that the group passes some authority on to its chosen officers.

Our Government units must have authority to do their work. Who has authority in these units? From whom do they get their power? The final authority belongs to the people. This is true whether you are thinking of the government of your Nation, State, county, city, town, or village. When the people vote to elect government officers they are only choosing persons to whom to delegate some of their final authority. Americans believe in having elections often, because such elections make it possible for the people to keep control over those to whom they have delegated authority.

If you will keep in mind, then, that in all of the government groups in this country (1) final authority belongs to the people, and that (2) the people delegate some (but not all) authority to their chosen representatives, you will have learned the first great principle upon which our system of government is built. This is a basic principle of our government and will be discussed fully in many places in this book.



Groups do not just happen to exist. They are generally formed because two or more persons decide to do something together rather than singly. We must, therefore, always look for a group's purpose or its objective. For example, a group of farmers may work together for the purpose of threshing grain, harvesting crops, or building a barn. A group of children may be brought together by their parents with the objective of getting a teacher, forming a school, and having the children taught the necessary things to make them good and successful citizens. A group of serious people may get together with a priest or other religious leader with the objective of worshiping God or of studying religious teachings. A family group will have the objective of improving the comfort of the home and helping one another to make a success out of life.

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