1-5 Good Will

Creating an organizational philosophy of inclusion and openness

The self-help movement has focused its work in the area of addictions - alcoholics anonymous (AA) - adult children of alcoholics (ACOA) - codependents anonymous (CODA) and so on. Valuable support is provided by these groups worldwide, as they focus on immediate support for individuals who wish to confront their 'addictions', and who are willing to recognize that their lives are unmanageable. What is becoming clear is that theses addictions are the visible symptoms of a dysfunctional family of origin - the basic needs of the children growing up in these families were not met - and the addictions are how the pain of loss, abandonment and suffering manifest themselves in our lives.

This work is beginning to show that many, and perhaps most of us, were raised in less than ideal circumstances, and have to deal with the fall-out from dysfunctional families of origin, or perhaps painful childhood incidents. Some have suffered severe abuse and are still deeply traumatized. This is not about blaming our parents, who often were just doing the best they knew how, coping with their own pain and trying to get on with life, but it is about naming the issues and getting some power over them. We are the fortunate generation, in that these issues are more widely known; teachers like John Bradshaw, and Melody Beattie are able to help us deal with family and subsequent relationship issues (where we often replay family of origin dramas).

These 12-step groups have a rigid format, with their essential elements unchangeable. This has therapeutic benefits (we know what to expect!), and we either agree with it and work in this format, or move on to find or create something else. The rule of no cross-talk allows everyone to own their own stuff - their own feelings and reactions - we don't blame or confront or argue. Again this has tremendous therapeutic benefits - we are learning how to establish 'healthy boundaries' - what someone else experienced or is feeling is their stuff, what I'm experiencing or feeling, my reactions, are my stuff, no-one is to blame, it is my job to take ownership, grieve my pain and loss, and consequently begin to heal myself in this safe environment. It's safe because I don't have to reveal myself until I'm ready, and no one is going to confront me.

What does this mean for a men's self-help organization? It means that everyone coming in to your organization as volunteers, directors etc. will be somewhere along this spectrum of possibilities - from absolute denial, to working on their issues by attending support groups, to 'graduation' - making healthy choices and in control of addictive impulses, and more self-aware.

The 12-Step format has been developed over decades of trial and error. What should the format be for a men's self-help organization? Everyone is going to have their own viewpoint - after all, everyone 'knows' what it means to be a man. Do not be surprised if crazy or irrational things happen. These are simply unhealed inner wounds and pain being acted out. Warren Farrel has characterized the men who get into men's work as the 'walking wounded', and the mythopoetic branch of the men's movement talks of the 'masculine wound' being a deep invisible psychic scar that influences our interactions - and is often 'acted out' or played out as we struggle to find out how to work together. Often an inconsistency appears, i.e. a man says he acknowledges group consciousness, but won't let go of his disagreement on an issue that the group has decided is fully debated and wishes to move on from. Perhaps the best approach is to as clearly and unconfrontationally as possible highlight the inconsistency in thinking, and stay at that place, until that man can make a consistent choice.

What finally determines our ability to work together and move forward on our goals? An elusive quality called 'Good Will'.

Good Will  is saying there is a higher purpose here than my own opinion, self-interest or gratification -Good Will is saying its not about getting control or taking power, more about openness, inclusivity and sharing -

Good Will  is saying this is about cooperation and compromise, not competition -

Good Will  is saying this is not about 'my way or the highway' everyone's opinion is as valid as mine -

Good Will  is saying weird stuff will happen, I will do the work of going back and trying to heal the wounds -

Good Will  is saying I acknowledge each of us personally and invite all our contributions -

Good Will  is saying I must throw away my preconceptions (what a man is supposed to be) and be guided by 'group consciousness' -

Good Will  is saying sometimes I will be 'wrong' -

Good Will  is saying I will not shame another man when he is 'wrong' -

Good Will  is saying this is about doing the work of moving ahead as a group, and working to find agreements -

Good Will  is saying I will acknowledge my own limitations and issues, as best I can -Good Will is saying I will work on my issues, I will acknowledge my boundaries, I will take ownership -Good Will is saying sometimes my expectations will not be met, and I choose not to hold resentments -Good Will is saying I acknowledge and participate in the conflict resolution choices/methods the organization wishes to set up -

Good Will  is saying I acknowledge the decisions that are made by group consciousness -Good Will is saying it is not about telling another man what to do, or what he 'should' do -

Good Will  is saying it's ok for each man to decide his own contribution and limits, we merely invite his contribution.

What happens when we try to work with good will? Our group procedures, meetings etc. and our organization develops with a buoyant energy, characterized by inclusion and openness, which helps develop in turn an attitude of solving the problem and moving on, and not one of holding resentments and judgements.

On the other hand, we can get bogged down in any of the areas described in the list above (and more I can't think of!). Typically it will be because a man is holding onto an issue, perhaps two men holding to divergent opinions and not willing to compromise. It's like the ego has grabbed hold of it and won't let go, and will fight tenaciously. Our egos are a defence mechanism; anger is a survival tool - when we do grab hold of an issue it often feels like a 'survival issue' - some part of us, because of our childhood experiences, or belief/value system may feel profoundly threatened. Those of us who haven't done our own healing work will more easily fall into this place of intransigence, and may defend our position vehemently, even to the point of destruction of our working relationships and friendships in the organization. In a small organization that is starting up, this attitude can easily derail meaningful progress and even destroy the organization.

If this whole idea is going to work and keep on working, once again the way ahead is to acknowledge that -Good Will is saying there is a higher purpose here than my own opinion, self-interest or gratification -and ultimately, group consciousness must be the deciding factor. After all, we can always go off and start our own organization… But guess what will happen there too…?