Monday, May 7, 2007

Self-Help and Service to Others

We had a good discussion at the Denver congress this past weekend about motivating more LifeRing members to take part in the organizational work.

Someone familiar with the Brand-A organizations quoted one of their slogans, "Don't ever say 'no' to XX," and someone else pointed to Step 12, which makes "carrying the message" an integral part of the core program.

So we talked about whether we should make "Service" the fourth "S" alongside Sobriety, Secularity, and Self-Help. (Not much support for that!) And we talked about how we might redefine Self-Help to build service into it. And we talked about whether guilting people to do volunteer work is a good policy.

Nobody in the discussion favored guilting people. Guilt is a nasty, undermining emotion and is as likely to drive a person into the arms of relapse as to keep them sober -- unless, of course, they're really guilty of something. In my experience, guilt is not only nasty, it also doesn't work very well as a motivator. In the San Francisco Bay Area, the Brand A Hospitals and Institutions committee (which presumably knows how to push the guilt buttons) has a very spotty record at providing Brand A volunteers to cover important meetings and presentations; at venues with which I'm personally familiar, where we also have LifeRing meetings, they've been no-shows time after time. Apparently their membership has developed a thick skin to guilt appeals, as would be only natural.

The psychologist Albert Bandura at Stanford, after much experiment and study, has come to the seemingly paradoxical conclusion that people remember negative reinforcement for a long time, but it doesn't change their behavior. What changes behavior is positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement changes people's behavior even when they're not aware of it and don't remember it.

Positive reinforcement is built into the core of our usual meeting format. The How Was Your Week format, with its inclusion of feedback (crosstalk), incorporates positive reinforcement as a central element. The whole healing model behind the motto "Empower Your Sober Self" is built around positive reinforcement. When it comes to applying this moving force to people's recovery work in the meeting context, we know what we're doing.

But how and where do we expose our members to positive reinforcement that motivates them to step forward and do service work for the organization? I don't see that we've developed an effective enough channel for it.

Maybe it would help if we had a convenor testimonials page, similar to the general LifeRing kudos page, where convenors could talk about how their own service work has helped their recoveries and made them feel good. Idea?

I'll post my own list in a separate article here, excerpted from How Was Your Week? Anyone with affirmative experiences can post a comment. Maybe the string of comments, after a while, can be set to print and circulated more widely, in an expanded edition of the "Give Something Back" brochure. It's a start.

What do you think?

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