Groucho Marx Had a Point

by | Nov 16, 2012 | Articles

5 min read

The Future of Everything.

Why do we belong to the organizations we do? Why don’t we belong to others? When Groucho Marx resigned from the Delaney Club he wrote a note to the Board explaining why: “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.”  I often hear reasons about why people join, don’t join, or quit organizations, and some of these reasons sound just as ridiculous.

For example, we tend to join those organizations that closely align with our values, or do the work we care about. There is almost an expectation that members are completely aligned with each other. There are meetings to align ideas and values, programs that bring along the membership, and undoubtedly someone does not align or agree with a decision. An inventory is taken, do I belong here? Do I want to be associated? What is my purpose in this organization? All very health and good evaluations, or are they?

I recently received my AARP card in the mail, which I quickly threw away. The next mailing I looked a little closer, and while I am not emotionally ready to join, I am now weighing and matching values, as I know they are a wonderful organization. I agree with this, not that, some of this, most of that, but not THAT. Forget it.

When President Reagan was in office, I was proud to be a Republican. Did not like Bush Senior because he didn’t seem to care about the environment. Started out not liking Clinton, then I did, and then I didn’t, and then I became an Independent. Not ready to be a Democrat, but warmed up to some of their ideas; definitely not a Republican, but some of their philosophies are solid. I do like Obama, yet supported Ovide in his campaign. How is that possible?

I now think that this kind of “inclusion thinking” is wrong. It doesn’t matter what party we belong to – what matters is belonging to something. Many people don’t feel an affiliation because something turns them off, they disagree with something, and they take their ball and go home. This, I now believe, is the easy way out. In fact, I now think it is the most fun in the world to be in a room of like-minded people (who I don’t agree with) and to be the one to be the contrarian, the outlier, the person who politely presents a new angle or idea. What fun is agreeing with what everyone else in the club believes? Do I need to believe in 18th centuries’ ideas to be a Republican, or “free everything” to be a Democrat? No! I can believe in social justice and fiscal responsibility at the same time. I can believe that local government is very different than Washington, and that having an AARP card means that I have become mature and not old. Why can’t I just be who I am without the labels?

The problem now becomes that some of these organizations don’t want me because I don’t agree with them. We have become so polarized as a culture that we only watch TV we agree with, and won’t even talk to the people across the aisle. Don’t we all have a hard time discussing politics with our friends and family, or stating a position, out of fear that we are offending someone? We stand at cocktail parties listening to some conspiracy theory, and we instantly lose any affiliation. And this, I’m afraid, is how it’s supposed to work.

Why don’t we open the doors to all organizations, clubs and institutions to those that we don’t think like us? What if we stopped and listened to each other, really listened for what we all agree with, and started from there? What if we rejected any extreme position and tried to determine what is good in the many ideas to find a reasonable idea that we can agree to disagree with, but still support on a trial basis? Why not join that party that we have a hard time agreeing with and become the internal change agent for it? What if we could represent our ideas to a group of people who we know will disagree with us, but not reject us outright? Be a Republican and vote against your party’s platform, and be a 30-year-old and join AARP. The policies these groups create will have an effect on you. Don’t beat them, join them.

I think it’s comforting to read and hear things with which we agree. It’s comfortable, but it’s also a delusion. We have to affiliate even if we don’t agree so we can make change. Our institutions need to open the door and encourage dialogue that they don’t agree with. We need to evolve and improve by joining the organizations that might not want us as a member, but eventually will.

There are many stories as to why Groucho Marx actually quit the Delaney Club. One story from his 1959 book mentions he was once seated next to a barber he did not like, to which the barber said “…we’re certainly getting a lousy batch of new members.”  That is a poor way to welcome a new member. Imagine how much fun the Delaney Club would have had if Groucho stayed?! By the way, I’ve decided to join AARP, and a political party.

Under the direction of Bedford, NH-based executive leadership coaching firm Sojourn Partners, The Future of Everything Project brings together panels of thought leaders from diverse backgrounds and interests to brainstorm, collaborate and proactively craft a vision of “what can be.”

Dr. Russ Ouellette is the managing partner of Sojourn Partners, a Bedford-based executive leadership strategy and coaching firm. He can be reached at (603) 472-8103 or He can also be twittered @RussOuellette or Facebooked – Sojourn Partners.

Re-published courtesy of NH Business Review

About Sojourn

Sojourn Partners is a results-driven executive leadership coaching firm that empowers the professional workforce to think differently in order to realize the full return on investment in themselves and their companies. Professional leadership thinking and intervention, based on years of research and experience, place Sojourn Partners at the forefront in executive leadership coaching, organizational development, strategic planning and culture and climate change.

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