The phenomenon of self-help groups has such energy that they are even difficult to compile in a directory; as soon as you publish your directory it is out of date - new organizations have formed, others changed or folded. But where are they coming from? They are as diverse as any issue you might see discussed in a newspaper. They are about people wanting to give something back, and who care to reach out to others; people motivated by compassion and their sense of what is right and fair; people motivated by injustice or suffering, who create for themselves a vision of how they personally might change things. But then they realize that the issue, their issue, is too big for them alone, so they look for allies so they might be more effective and make more significant change, touching the lives of more and more people.
Often they will have been through their own personal struggle or life difficulty/tragedy, and part of their healing, part of their joy even, is to give back what they have learned in their process of taking care of themselves. So it's about growth, and triumph over life's problems, and it's about helping others reach that same place.
So it starts with one woman or man, their issue and growth, and the idea, the possibility of giving something back. They may not have, and often will not have, any particular qualification for the 'job' they set up for themselves. But they are willing to do the work of figuring it out for themselves, as they go along. So they try to put all the little bits and pieces into place to help the idea come to fruition, and gradually become more adept, aware and wiser. Along the way they figure out a lot about human dynamics, and politics, but through all the frustrations and problems along the way, it is the warmth and courage in their hearts that pulls them through. Some great things have been achieved by self-help groups; some are being achieved right at this very moment; some remain to be achieved, perhaps by the group you will help to establish.
This handbook has grown out of my experiences in a men's self-help organization. It is part of my growth, and healing, and expresses 'a gift' that I might share with others. It expresses my own thoughts and ideas, as well as prejudices and ignorance. I am no expert, just a person the same as any other who cares to try to reach out to others. So the ideas written about here are just suggestions that you may use or discard at will, perhaps superseded by your own personal insights and knowledge. I have done no research backed up by years of academic study and qualifications. I still struggle on a day to day basis to make sense of the interactions that occur within the self-help group I am a part of. Perhaps this handbook is merely a guide you will use for a short period on your journey. Maybe you'll toss it in the trash. So be it. If you come across something better, let me know!
My own life journey has taken me through a process of exploring my personal, family and relationship issues in a mixed group setting, in men's groups, and currently as a director of a men's organization that puts men's groups together. In my earliest days, we had 12 men on the board of directors, and we were in conflict and really struggled to hear each other. I'd been doing a lot of dream work at the time, and one day before a board meeting my body wisdom was telling me to take a nap. So I lay down for an hour, and had an interesting dream. Somehow I could fly, and a marvellous statue/icon, somehow alive, but fixed in place, huge in size, similar to the statue of Liberty, was before me. On her outstretched hand she wore a Ring of Power on her index finger, and I engaged in a struggle to remove the Ring, which I managed to do. But as I wrestled the ring from her finger, the Keys of Wisdom, which had lain hidden in her cupped hand, fell into the ocean below us, and were lost. What I took from this was that were I to wrestle for power, then I would suffer the loss of wisdom. My ego says to fight and overcome. Another part of me says wisdom is hidden along a different path. Ever since, at the board discussions, and elsewhere, it's not about winning anymore, but about suggestions, and shared perspectives, and working for agreements. And going along with the group decision. It is those people who hang in, and who keep showing up that will determine the ultimate outcome. The heat of the forge is tempering our minds and hearts. At the end of that year, ten had left, leaving two to rebuild the vision, and the process.
Maybe that great statue was more than my immediate issue, of conflict on the board. Maybe it was Feminism herself, or woman's wisdom? Maybe it was a disowned part of myself? What is that edifice? -what does it represent? Power can destroy. How then to wield power compassionately, and with wisdom, and to build and not destroy? Some of these questions are played out in this handbook, and will be played out in whatever self-help situation you create.