Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A.A. and Humility

David Brooks writes about Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.). The most famous behavior-changing program has millions of graduates “who fervently believed that its 12-step process saved their lives.” Yet the vast majority of people who try the program don’t succeed. Brooks says:
public policy [tries] to get people to behave in their own long-term interests — to finish school, get married, avoid gangs, lose weight, save money. Because the soul is so complicated, much of what we do fails. . . we should get used to the idea that we will fail most of the time. . . People are idiosyncratic. There is no single program that successfully transforms most people most of the time. . . get over the notion that we will someday crack the behavior code — that we will someday find a scientific method [to] design reliable social programs. . .

We should be humble about what social science can do. Yet we can learn from A.A.’s successes as well, for the program offers “shrewd insights” into human psychology:

➢ to get people to gain control over their lives, A.A. begins with an act of surrender and an admission of weakness.

➢ A.A. relies on fellowship—successful members become deeply intertwined with one another — learning, sharing, suffering and mentoring one another. Individual repair is a social effort.

➢ A.A. allows each local group to form, adapt and innovate with little quality control, part of an organization that’s decentralized, innovative and dynamic.

➢ instead of addressing too much drinking with the psychic equivalent of a precision-guidance missile, A.A. sets out to change people’s whole identities, arousing people’s spiritual aspirations.

As Brooks well knows, we live in a secular society that honors learned experts, working through a government of the educated to help the less–fortunate among us. A.A. by contrast says YOU empty yourself, seek fellowship, find God.

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