Be sure to listen to the accompanying podcast: Episode 223 – Finding Members for your Group
One of the topics we have covered periodically on the podcast is that of teams, groups and MAGs (Mutual Assistance Groups). Regardless of how you define your group, there are common issues when determining who to let into your private membership. And it is a private membership, due to the sensitive information everyone in the group has access to. Therefore, you need to give careful consideration to the people becoming part of your group.
In general, this is not an easy topic, as there are no fast and simple rules. The average human being is a complex bag of emotions and logic, to which fields of science have been dedicated to understanding. Therefore, it is not surprising when the person you thought to be a stable individual turns out to be not much more than a basket case. Below is some information to consider when looking for group members.
Finding group members is a lot like finding a spouse; you cannot really tell if they are right for you from just a few dates. Sure, we all know those couples who got married after knowing each other for only a few short weeks. However, they will tell you the secret to staying together required a lot of luck and hard work. Being part of a group is not much different. There will be differences, arguments, heated debates, betrayals, and various other emotional conflicts. All of which need to be addressed, particularly since this group is supposed to be like a second family to you.
One very important aspect to keep in mind is what happens when someone stops being a group member. Though it may seem like many people would make a good group member, most will turn out to be incompatible with you and your group. Some people are very good at hiding who they really are and, even after knowing someone for years, finding out their true self may come as a complete surprise.
One thing, which you need to keep in mind at all times, is what the consequences are when someone stops being a group member. They may get kicked out of the group or they may decide to leave voluntarily. Either way, it becomes a security risk when a member departs.
Ideally, before someone becomes a member, you have done your due diligence and made sure, as much as is reasonably possible, the person is honorable and poses as little risk as possible, both during and after their membership. Unfortunately, this is not always possible and you will eventually have people whom pose a risk to you and your group.
Judging What Makes a Good Group Member
Listen to your gut instinct. Oftentimes, we ignore what our senses are telling us and if we can learn to listen to our “gut feelings,” we tend to fare better. This applies not only to finding group members, but to all situations.
Tuning in on how well you get along with someone when you first meet them can tell you a lot about the person. This means, however, you need to be in tune with yourself and the subtle feelings inside you. While this sounds New Age and metaphysical, it is something you have been doing all your life. It is just a matter of whether you understand why you are feeling the way you do.
Dogs can be useful in this area, as they often pick up subtle cues from us and respond to them. If you have a dog, and you are familiar with their signals and tells, bringing the animal with you may help.
The amount of inventory a person has should not be a reason to let them into the group, either. Though they may have enough phased plasma rifles (in the 40 watt range) for each member of the group, that does not mean they are going to be a good fit. Do not let equipment dictate who gets a membership.
Beyond determining the good/bad status of someone, in terms of a preparedness group, one of the first things to look for is whether you share the same perspective on preparedness. If their views on preparedness matters are radically different from yours, this may be an insurmountable issue, depending on what the differences are. There is a lot to be said for bringing in people with different skill sets and perspectives into the group, but the group needs to have a common core of beliefs to be productive.
Without a common set of beliefs and values, groups fall apart. This is why families are so strong; they have been together from the beginning and have gone through many emotional events, both good and bad. This is what bonds a family together (in most cases).
For example, if your group believes everyone pitches in and helps on all tasks, regardless of what the task is, you will have problems from members that feel cleaning dishes is woman’s work. Or, cleaning the toilets is beneath them. Someone who does not voluntarily pitch in to help when there is work to be done bears further watching before letting into your group. Likewise, someone who is too eager to do everything may simply be trying to mask who they really are, simply to get into the group.
Another aspect, and a rather touchy one, is external liabilities – or what is sometimes called baggage. A very-much-against-guns-and-preparing spouse is definitely a red flag. Likewise, anyone in the potential member’s family that has “government related” needs, may not be worth the trouble. In other words, if the candidate has foster children, or an unwilling spouse, or a special needs child whose business the government likes to continuously stick their nose into, or teenage kids with criminal records – it may be better to look elsewhere.
Dog or Snake?
Loyalty and trustworthiness is high on the list of attributes to look for in a person. Members or potential members having these traits are low security risks, both when they leave the group or when the decision has been made to not let them in the group. In fact, these two traits are so highly regarded, they may be your only true requirements.
When you are putting together a group and realize all of the tasks and jobs needing to be done in a survival situation, particularly a long-term scenario, it quickly becomes apparent it is nearly impossible to have too many people whom are loyal, trustworthy and hard working.
While it may seem as though many people could make a good member, the majority will turn out to be incompatible with you and your group. Get beyond whether they are likable. Many people put on a facade, or public face, to be more likable. Even after knowing someone for years, finding out his or her true self may come as a complete surprise. On the flip side, being unsociable or having a rough disposition does not necessarily make them a bad candidate.
One very important aspect to keep in mind at all times is what happens when someone stops being a group member. They may get kicked out of the group or they may decide to leave voluntarily. Either way, it becomes a security risk when a member departs from the group.
When someone leaves the group is not the time to find out they have a criminal history, are revenge driven, or have violent tendencies. A spiteful person, one who has learned your sensitive information, can make your life miserable, particularly if they are sociopathic. Imagine trying to operate as a group, knowing there is someone out there who knows all of the group’s information and now has a large amount of animosity towards everyone in the group.
Let’s say your group has reached a point where you have communal property for a bug out location. If this property is unoccupied most of the time, it will be difficult to use that property for storage or caches, knowing a disgruntled ex-member knows its location. Even when there is an amicable separating of ways, unless you change everything about the group, ex-members will know this information.
Think of all the information that cannot be easily changed. Including where each of you live, what your plans are, where each of you has preparedness supplies stored – including guns, your bug out locations, the routes you will be taking to get there, and so on. During an emergency where it will be a long time before society heals itself, it is likely you will see ex-members show up at your doorstep.
Many prepper groups are using shipping containers, out on rural parcels of land, for the storage of gear and supplies. Even if you changed the padlock, the containers are sitting out in the middle of nowhere, watched by no one. With enough time, the proper tools, and no one watching, it would not be difficult to get into them.
These are all examples of why you need to take your time when prospective for new group members.
If you already have a group, the group needs to decide on what the process is for letting in new people, what the conditions are for membership, and what the procedure is for getting to know someone and when to decide if they are a good fit for the group. If you are going this alone and are trying to form a group, you still need to make some decisions on these matters.
When you go looking for new group members, it is probably best not to announce this. In other words, do not tell anyone you are scouting for new people, especially the people you are most interested in. This gives you an opportunity to see how they are normally, when they are not trying to impress someone.
There are many online groups around the country whose focus is on preparedness, such as Meetup.com, and is one way to find people interested in preparedness. Groups like Meetup.com allow you to go to meetings anonymously, allowing you to interact with people who are preparedness minded, but do not necessarily know who you are. There are other types of groups, too, some of which have no direct correlation to preparedness, that may have hidden preppers among them. These are great ways to engage someone in preparedness activities without revealing your intentions.
As you talk to people, you can find out a lot about them simply by what they tell you. After a while, you can start doing things with those people you are comfortable with, though you still should not announce your intentions at this time. Once you have become comfortable, start doing activities as you get to know someone better: Camping, hiking, off-roading, shooting, preparedness-related classes, even going out to dinner or lunch.
During this “get to know you better” phase, introduce them to other members of the group, but again, not in an overt way. At this point, there should be no mention of a group existence. This provides an opportunity for everyone to form opinions about the potential recruits without the person feeling like they are on trial. Also, preparedness related activities can give you an idea of how they handle themselves in specific situations and in potentially dangerous situations (do they handle a gun safely, are they cautious around fire, and so on).
Ideally, this initial process should take a minimum of several months, but a year or two would not be unreasonable either. Rushing this process only leads to bad decisions. You can have a list of people you would extend a spontaneous invitation, should a SHTF scenario occur, though. In fact, you may want to keep a list of likely candidates for your group, particularly those people who you know either would not have time or interest in being part of a group during normal times.
This list of SHTF people could be likely candidates you have not had a chance to approach or invite yet, but have a reasonable idea of what they are like. There are also people that have a preparedness mindset, but do not actually associate themselves with the preparedness movement. They may simply be good friends and family members who have no idea you are a prepper. If they are otherwise good people and are good to have around, extend them an invitation when it makes sense. Long-term emergencies, EMP for example, will require a large amount people to get safely through it, so have that last-minute invite list.
Secrets Kept are Red Flags
Once the group has made the decision to go forward with an invitation to join, it is time for an open discussion with them. Inform them of the group and ask them to be a part of it. Explain what the group is, what membership means, why they are being asked to join, what will be expected of them, and any other information they should know. You should also explain to them you did not pry into their personal life behind their back, like running background checks (hopefully not!), as you put a high value on trust.
It is at this point where you should have the deep, philosophical discussions on values, preparedness, and goals of both the group and people individually. No secret group information should be divulged at this time, though. If the new member accepts the invite, you still want to move slowly and not give them all the keys to the kingdom. Once people think they have been accepted, they tend to relax and you may learn more about who they really are inside.
If your group performs background checks on new people, this is the time to ask the new member to voluntarily submit to one. Remember, trust is a two-way street and if they believe you were checking up on them without their permission, you have just broken that trust. When you ask for permission, you should also ask them what you may find. Everyone has a past, some small, some big, so it is a matter of truthfulness.
Also, it is at this time you should be getting a medical history about them, if you do not know already. Are there any medical conditions the group should know about? Allergies? Conditions requiring medication or medical devices to live? None of these should rule out a person’s membership, but you need to know what they are.
A few other things to keep an eye out for when considering new members include:
- Personality conflicts – are they rubbing someone in the group the wrong way?
- Are they helpful? Do they volunteer or lend a hand without having to be asked?
- Do they like animals? Do they have pet allergies?
- Do they like kids? Adults who have no experience with kids of their own can quickly become frustrated with children.
- Are they argumentative? Do they like to argue for no other reason than the love of a good debate? These types of people can be especially difficult to deal with, as they slow down the process of getting prepared as a group.
- When they oppose an idea, do they offer another solution? Or do they just like to point out the failings of others?
- Can they fill both a leadership and subordinate role? In a small group, sometimes people need to be leaders and other times they must be followers. People who cannot do both may create problems within the group. Also, be cautious with those that are too eager for leadership.
- Personal preparedness plans that conflict with those of the group. For example, if someone has family in another state and has made repeated statements about needing to go get them in an emergency, they are likely to be AWOL during a crisis.
- Racism, sexism, and other derogatory ideologies.
When looking at group preparedness, remember that a long-term crisis scenario will require large amounts of people labor for survival. Therefore, unless you are creating a specific paramilitary team, no one should be automatically discounted because of any disabilities or shortcomings (such as having a lack of gear). Look at each prospective member on a case-by-case basis, weighing their strengths and weaknesses, keeping in mind everyone has something to contribute, and find those who will fit into your group.
Finding group members is a tedious process, but the gains accomplished by having a group of people you can depend on is immeasurable.