Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom - William Glasser M.D. 1998
The Quality Community
ALL OF US HAVE experienced kindness and caring from total strangers. Whenever a community is hard hit by a flood, tornado, hurricane, earthquake, or explosion, people from the whole country rally to their support. Even the news of a single person trapped in a cave or on the side of a mountain arouses the concern of people everywhere. When we help strangers, because we know it’s only for a short time, we don’t ask them to do anything but accept our help. The only picture of them in our quality worlds is to help them. Because we have no expectations of strangers, external control is rarely part of any of these helping transactions. But when we are with our wives, husbands, children and parents, students, or employees, expectations are very much a part of all we do, and external control is the way we attempt to do it.
This book focuses on individuals, on learning choice theory, and on getting along much better with each other. It is my hope that many individuals will make this choice, but they will still encounter many more who don’t, who use external control to deal with them. Although it benefits you to use choice theory even if your spouse, parent, principal, or boss won’t, it would help you a lot more if they did.
In many places in this book I alluded to how much better it would be if we moved as a society from external control to choice theory. I have envisioned the idea of a quality community, an entire community that has made the commitment to change to choice theory—a community in which you wouldn’t have to be concerned that the people you encountered would be trying to make you do what you didn’t want to do and in which the people all around you would think, before they did anything, Will this bring me closer to the others in the community or will it tend to move us further apart? In such a community, when you would use choice theory to deal with others, you could count on others doing the same.
It was this ideal that has encouraged me to try to persuade an entire community to think about learning choice theory. If I could show as well as tell a significant number of people in a community, including some influential ones, that these ideas are valuable and worth learning, the community would not have to spend a great deal of time and money learning how to use it; that part would take care of itself. And once this choice theory community got started, there would be a good chance that word of mouth would keep it going. But how do you show a whole community the value of these ideas and then persuade them to read a book that tells them to consider changing the way they live their personal lives?
I vividly remember how much my dad hated to shovel coal when coal furnaces were all there were. Then, in the fall of 1932, two well-dressed men came to our house three nights in a row and talked to my dad. I listened (he liked me to be with him when he did things) and, although I didn’t understand much of what they were talking about, the men paid me a lot of compliments and I liked their attention.
These men worked for the gas company and were trying to persuade my dad to put a gas-conversion burner into our furnace. The burner would be free; all he would have to do was buy the gas. He agreed, and they installed a thermostat on the wall. The neighbors were very skeptical: “Now they have you; your furnace is wrecked, and you’ll freeze. Besides, even if it works, it’ll cost you an arm and a leg for gas.” But you know the end of the story; my dad was right. No one has ever fought progress and won. If this book is able to persuade you that choice theory is progress, there may be a chance. What I have to do if I want to sell choice theory to a community is to put on my good suit, sit down with the people in the community, and explain the benefits of a quality community based on choice theory. I also have to remember to show how it could help their children; the gas company men didn’t forget about me.
In late winter 1997, I was scheduled to present my quality school ideas to the Corning, New York, school district. I asked if Carleen and I could also give a free presentation the night before to the entire community on applying choice theory to an unhappy marriage. Then I asked my contact person if it would be all right if I went beyond the presentation on marriage and offered the idea of teaching choice theory to the community, especially, if the presentation on marriage went well. We learned that the room would be packed with over six hundred people. I remembered those men from the gas company and didn’t take any chances. I put on my good suit and my best tie.
To begin, I explained the use of choice theory in marriage, citing the fact that a happy, lifelong marriage is an endangered species in our society. But I soon saw that this big crowd wanted more than a lecture, so I decided to demonstrate what I was talking about. I got the superintendent of schools, Vince Coppola, to play an unhappy husband and Carleen to play his angry, disgruntled wife. I played the counselor and demonstrated the structured reality therapy that I use in marital problems. Vince and Carleen gave Academy Award performances; the audience laughed their heads off. I didn’t have to spell out what I meant. I could tell that in this short demonstration, the audience saw the value of learning choice theory.
While I had their attention, I offered Corning the possibility of pioneering the teaching of this new concept to all the people in the community, who could then use it in many parts of their personal lives. After the talk, I could feel the audience’s interest as they buzzed and hung around. People came up and talked separately both to me and Carleen. I had a word with the chief of police, who recognized that choice theory might help reduce domestic violence, one of the most feared situations his officers have to deal with.
The next day at lunch about thirty community leaders met with Carleen and me to discuss this idea further. They were concerned about committing time and money to something they did not fully understand. After I explained the theory in more detail, they seemed interested but cautious. They said they would get back to me.
I kept thinking about their concerns. I knew these community leaders were also worried about something that they had not brought up—that skeptical neighbors would be only too happy to tell them that they’d made fools of themselves. But here the stakes were much higher than with my dad agreeing to convert to gas. If they agreed to this deal, they might make fools of the neighbors, too. I was asking them to agree to go beyond what my dad had agreed to, to put gas in all their furnaces, not just one.
In an attempt to deal with their concern, I wrote the following letter to Marjorie VanVleet, our contact person, to share with the small informal committee that was formed after our lunch meeting.
An Invitation to the City of Corning, New York from
William and Carleen Glasser
As a follow-up to our recent invitation to your city to become the first quality community based on choice theory, we would like to put the following thoughts in writing.
When we were there, I asked the city to sign a contract with the William Glasser Institute and I offered some sense of what it would cost to teach and train a whole city in these ideas. Since then I have decided that you need more substantive information to make this decision.
Before you consider signing any contract, Carleen and I would like to follow up on what we did in March by making an in-depth weekend presentation to a much larger group but similar in makeup to the group that met with us at the high school on March 12. We would like to do that at the end of January because by that time, my new book, Choice Theory, A New Psychology of Personal Freedom, will be available. That book will not only explain choice theory but also will describe, in great detail, how a whole community can implement this theory.
During those two days, we will present and demonstrate the ideas and give you a chance to break into small groups and discuss what was presented. Then, based on what you have read and heard, you will have the data to decide. By that time, we will have thought enough of this through so that we can give you some clear estimates of what it would cost.
What we need now is a commitment to go as far as the weekend in late January. That group could be as large as you like, but all who come should have read the book. Since the power of the program is improving all relationships, especially family relationships, family attendance at this presentation would model the program and give families a chance to give their input. Also we would want grassroots support. What we offer will not work if it is seen as elitist or as a “we know what’s good for you” program.
It is also very important for this program not to be seen as a moneymaking venture for Carleen, myself or the William Glasser Institute. Our hearts are in these ideas; the community approach is the only way we can move the flat line of human progress upward.
The world needs more than words and books; it needs a model community to show the way. I hope Corning can provide this model. We can assure you we will not stint in our efforts to help you to succeed.
APRIL 1, 1997
The people in Corning were cautiously enthusiastic. They agreed to go ahead as far as getting a hundred people, who are representative of the community, to read the book, which could be in their hands by January 1, 1998. Then the hundred, plus any others who read it, will meet with Carleen and me for two days in late January. In this meeting, we will decide where to go from there. Since they are willing to make this pioneering commitment, we will charge nothing but our travel expenses as long as this project takes. So far, people in the community have offered to put us up in their homes so there will be no hotel expenses.
For me, this could be an incredible learning experience. I did not charge the Schwab Middle School in Cincinnati for the seventy days I spent learning and teaching there. If I had not spent that time in Schwab, I could not have learned much of what I have written here about education. As I did at Schwab, I have no intention of asking for money or any formal contract from Corning. But what we did at Schwab worked, and although Corning is a larger project, it may be easier, at least in the beginning. The rest of this chapter describes my vision of a quality community and what I believe may be done in Corning until we meet in January 1998.
THE HISTORY OF THE VISION
Although I was not aware of it, the vision of a quality community based on choice theory started in the early 1960s, well before I began thinking about what has now become choice theory. From 1956 to 1967, I was the psychiatrist for what was then called the Ventura School for Girls, which was run as a prison school by the California Youth Authority. A new school was built in 1962 that housed 400 adolescent delinquent girls. What I describe here happened in that new school.
I now realize that we created a quality community. We were the mothers, fathers, counselors, and teachers of those girls whose whole world was enclosed by a high fence and barbed wire. Without knowing it, we practiced choice theory. All we did was tested by the core idea of that theory: Would what we do bring the girls and us closer together or further apart?
These girls had a lot of experience with external control psychology and were about as far apart from us when they came in as anyone could be. They had committed a variety of crimes, had almost uniformly been sexually abused, and almost all were involved with drugs. The girls were used to running the streets freely and were hostile to the idea of being locked up. When they left our school, usually after about ten months, some had to be put into straitjackets to get them into the car to go home. They didn’t want to leave what for many was the first place in years where they felt cared for.
Many stayed out of trouble; the success rate for them on parole was very high. If they could have left to go to a quality community, where improving relationships was a major concern, we would have had a much higher success rate. But if they had grown up in such a community and had gone to a quality school, most would never have been sent to Ventura.
The scene that I describe next depicts the very essence of a quality community. It graphically illustrates what could be duplicated in every aspect of a community that was willing to learn and use choice theory. If you agree that what we did was effective and can conceive of trying to do the same in your own life, as an individual, you are ready to make the move. Get a hundred people, including some of the community leaders, to agree that it works, and you’ll have the beginning of a choice theory-based quality community.
At Ventura, the girls had individual rooms with their own keys, but for security, they were locked in at night. In the morning all the doors were open, and the house mother walked up and down the two wings to do what she could to help fifty girls get started for the day. If you have one adolescent girl at home, you can appreciate her job. The girls called her Ma and thought of her as their mother. The cottage was their home. Occasionally, we had trouble, but not for long because of what we did, which is well illustrated in the following incident.
A big, tough-looking girl named Tracy, who was hostile and threatening, had come to the cottage the day before. After the staff and the girls did what they could, she seemed a little more accepting of where she was when she went to bed. But the following morning, instead of getting her room ready, Tracy sat on her unmade bed, waiting. When she didn’t show up for breakfast, the house mother went down to her room and asked, “Do you need some help?”
The house mother was immediately barraged with a series of curses and threats from Tracy, who had been planning to let her have it when she showed up. She tried to comfort Tracy, asked her politely to make her bed, and told her come to breakfast and that they would talk more after she ate. She also told Tracy that if she was still upset, she didn’t have to go to school that day.
“It’s not my bed; if you want the fucking bed made, make it yourself,” Tracy shouted. “You’re lucky I haven’t torn this room apart. I didn’t ask to come here. Why don’t you just get off my back. Leave me alone. I’ll come out there when I feel like it.”
“All the girls make their beds. I’m not asking you to do anything different. C’mon, just do it and let’s go eat. The girls have been asking about you; they hope you’ll be happy here.”
Notice that the house mother paid no attention to the threats and curses, returning hostility with kindness. She had a lot of experience dealing with angry new arrivals.
“OK, I’ll come to breakfast, but I’m not going to make the bed.”
This was the crucial point. The rule was that everyone made her own bed, so it was important that Tracy make her bed. But it was also important that in the process, we didn’t separate ourselves any further from this already alienated girl. The house mother knew what to do. Stop here and take a moment to see if you can figure out how she dealt with this situation, so that the bed got made and she got closer to Tracy. If you know choice theory, this is what you will almost always be able to figure out. If everyone in a community knew choice theory, all could handle situations like this at home, in school, and in the community much better than most do now. In time, the community could be transformed.
If you are still an external control person, and I know it will take more than one reading of this book to convince you to change to choice theory, every fiber of your being is crying out, I wouldn’t take that from her. If she gets away with it, this whole cottage will fall apart. No matter what it takes, I’ve got to show her who’s in charge here and make her follow the rules.
Here is what the house mother did. It was pure choice theory and achieved the goal of helping Tracy get over her hostility and accept her new life in the cottage. If Tracy gave the school any further trouble, something like this statement would be repeated.
“How about if I ask one of the girls who was wondering about how you were doing to come down here and help you make the bed.”
“Fine with me, except she’s going to have to make it. I don’t make beds for nobody.”
Tracy’s hostility was already simmering down. Tracy didn’t curse any more because the house mother didn’t show any concern for her language or her threats. All the house mother offered was help, but she didn’t back down on getting the bed made. She also didn’t say, “I’m the boss and you’d better make that bed,” which would have led to more trouble and to Tracy moving further away from everyone than she already was. The house mother left, and a girl came down to the room.
She said, “I see your name is Tracy. I’m Jill. I hear you’re unhappy. Can I help?”
“I hate it here. I hated Juvy [juvenile hall], but I never thought I’d end up here. I’m really pissed. How can you stand this fucking place?”
“I felt just like you when I came in. But I’ll tell you, it’s not so bad. It’s a lot better than Juvy and the reception center.” All the girls went to a reception center after juvenile hall and were sent to Ventura from that center.
“Do they make you go to school? I hate school.”
“They don’t make you do anything, but we all do it. It’s really weird, but we do.”
“You mean, they won’t make me make this bed, and they don’t make you go to school and you go? Are you kidding me?”
“Sure I go. It’s a lot better than sitting in the cottage all day. I like the school; they have a neat setup where they teach us cosmetology. I could do your hair if you wanted.”
Girls helping each other is a powerful technique. We always tried that first at Ventura. It is so much more effective than what many schools and institutions do: have staff members use external control, which makes things worse. But we helped the girls to learn choice theory as we do at Huntington Woods and are beginning to do at Schwab.
“Well, I don’t know.”
“What don’t you know?”
“This fucking bed, I still don’t want to make it.”
“Then sit here and I’ll make it for you. It’s no big deal. Or we could make it together. C’mon, I’m getting hungry. If we don’t get there soon, they’ll eat up all the food.”
The girls made the bed together and went to breakfast. The house mother didn’t say anything except to welcome Tracy with a cup of coffee and ask her if she needed a cigarette. In those days, all the girls and most of the staff smoked, and a cigarette was allowed after meals and at other times—eight cigarettes a day for both the staff and girls. There were no special staff privileges at Ventura. Keep this scene in mind as you think about choice theory. If almost everyone in a community can understand and agree with what we did at Ventura, at least enough to try to use some choice theory in these common difficult situations, the rest of what has to be done to create a quality community will be easy.
WHAT WOULD A QUALITY COMMUNITY BE LIKE?
We’ve all lived so long with external control psychology that it’s difficult to conceive of what it would be like to live without it. Just look back to the girl in the Ventura School. By the end of that day, Tracy was part of the group. No one needed to threaten or punish her; it was all over. We could go for months with the toughest girls in California and not have a serious incident, much less an ongoing problem. But if you visited the school, you wouldn’t see what we accomplished. You would see a lot of happy, teenage girls and wonder out loud, as my sister-in-law did when she visited, “Where are the delinquent girls?” If you walked around a quality community, you might wonder, What’s so good about this? Even if you lived in one, you might wonder, What’s different?
The change would be subtle, but you would see it. The streets would be cleaner and the people more friendly. It would take a while, but the fear that is always present, even in small communities like Corning, would be reduced. A person coming from another small town might see it more quickly than you and remark on what he or she saw. The people in the community would be looking for change, and the newspapers would send out reporters to inquire about change. I believe the changes would take time, but if the people began to use choice theory in any substantial way, they would see change.
If the schools made the choice to work toward becoming quality schools, the students, teachers, and parents would notice it. If you talk to a teacher in a quality school, he or she will say: “Everyone’s happier and the students are working harder. Teaching’s a lot more fun than it used to be.” The visitors would say, as they do at Huntington Woods, “Why can’t other schools be like this?” If Wyoming, Michigan, was moving toward a quality community and the teachers in the other schools were learning choice theory, not as part of an in-service training program but as part of a community program, it would be natural for them to think about having their schools work toward becoming quality schools. Huntington Woods has been a quality school for three years. It is visited by people from all over the world, but none of the other schools in the community has attempted to go in that direction. This is why a quality community is needed.
In a quality community, domestic violence would also decrease. When it occurred, there would be something tangible that could be done for it, similar to what the First Step Program, in Fostoria, Ohio, mentioned in chapter 8, does. But a quality community would go beyond the efforts of that program as good as it is, since the First Step Program operates after violence has occurred. In a quality community, where many wives and husbands would be learning choice theory and the solving circle, a great deal of spousal disagreements that later escalate to violence would be prevented.
But if the domestic violence reached such a level that the police were involved, the couple would be advised to enter the First Step Program, and the judge, at his or her discretion, could offer this program as an alternative to imprisonment or fines. The key to dealing with all violence is early intervention before much harm is done or before jail becomes the only choice the judge has. This nonpunitive, educational intervention is ideal. The couple does not have to be taught how to use choice theory; all they have to do is learn it together. To use it then becomes obvious, and how they are using it becomes part of the learning experience.
In a quality community as soon as anyone found out that a child was being mistreated at home or was not getting along at school or in the community, this information would be considered a community emergency. Most of the adolescents who were in serious trouble would be known to the community long before they did anything criminal. Early help saves individuals a lot of suffering and the community a great deal of money. My vision is that as soon as a substantial number of people in the community, both professional and nonprofessional, learned choice theory and were speaking a common language, some kind of a community effort would be created to deal with these children as soon as they were discovered. Both Carleen and I would like to offer ongoing consultation to this vital effort. What communities do now is punish or neglect; neither works, and things get worse.
I cannot suggest specific strategies. The best things to do would grow out of the choice theory that everyone involved with a particular maltreated child would know. The child’s parent or parents would be asked to learn choice theory, or if the case was brought to court, the judge might order them to do so. But since the wife a busers in Fostoria welcome this intervention, the parents would probably welcome it, too. When trouble occurs, people who know choice theory can figure out how to deal with it. In our external control society, with all good intentions, we fail to help many of these children and actually harm some. Also in a quality community, as the tide of choice theory rose and carried the schools and homes with it, there would be fewer of these children, so it would be more feasible to deal intensively with them.
Lower medical costs would slowly become apparent as members of the community began to use choice theory in their lives. A large percentage of the people who seek medical care for aches, pains, fatigue, and chronic illnesses are suffering from the ravages of external control psychology, specifically, more from the unsatisfying relationships caused by the use of this psychology than by pure medical problems. In a quality community, people who were recognized as not needing medical help would be offered the chance to learn choice theory. The savings would far outweigh the few dollars that this opportunity would cost, since there would be fewer visits to the doctor and less medication would be prescribed.
Nurses; counselors; and, occasionally, general practitioners could be trained to run study groups that might be able to accommodate up to fifteen people (the ideal number could only be worked out in practice). This would be a specific, but inexpensive, extra provided by the health plan to augment whatever these chronic sufferers were involved with in the ongoing community program. I must stress that this offer would never replace medical treatment or one-on-one counseling, but it would substantially reduce the need for both and the waiting lists endemic to them. It would especially reduce the use of expensive procedures like MRIs and CAT scans that are so often used with unhappy, chronic patients.
Right now, we pay a huge price for treating lonely people as if they are sick. Teaching these people choice theory could reduce that price and give many of them far more help than they get now. As they got help they would become the biggest boosters of the program. If an HMO wanted to be competitive, it would allow the physicians to give the time they would save to patients with diseases, such as cancer and heart disease, who could benefit from more ongoing attention from physicians and nurses. A physician who spends five extra minutes with a patient in intensive care and is perceived as caring can prevent the patient and his or her family from making demands that many, who feel neglected, make now. The best part of such a community program would be that it would not single these people out; what they would be offered would differ little from what the community as a whole was learning.
In a quality community, it would be essential to offer all police and correctional officers an opportunity to learn these ideas, so they could apply them in their work and teach them to those they worked with. For example, a DARE officer could add choice theory to his or her talks with students about staying clear of drugs. In a quality community, the probation and parole officers would teach their clients choice theory, and once the clients learned it, they would have something positive to talk and think about. Probationers and parolees individually, or in small groups led by parole or probation officers, would be asked to read this book. A community volunteer, skilled in the ideas of this book, might also work with the officers because it would be good for the parolees and probationers to meet a person from the community who showed that he or she cared by trying to help them learn these ideas.
Married parolees and probationers would be asked to read this book with their spouses and bring them to the discussion groups. It wouldn’t matter if they did so sincerely or tried to use the book and the groups as a con; the effect would be the same. Some of the girls at Ventura used to tell me, “I’m just going along with the program; you’re never really going to change me.” I would say, “That’s fine. Con me by doing well; it’s all the same to me.” Then several months later, they would laugh and say, “You knew it would happen, didn’t you?” I would ask, “What happened?” And we’d laugh together.
The judges in a quality community would find that they had a new sentencing option, a new way to divert first-time nonviolent offenders so they could escape being sucked into the correctional abyss that not only does not correct but usually makes things worse. Judges could offer these offenders a simple assignment—to read the book and then write a report describing how they would use these ideas in their lives if they were given probation. It might get them thinking in a new direction. We have nothing now but external control, which is jamming our jails to almost inhuman capacity.
Inmates serving time in community jails and juvenile halls could be offered a chance to read the book and enter discussion groups as part of the usual time off for good behavior. If they couldn’t read or read well, they could listen to someone else read the material or listen to audiotapes. Many of them would welcome a chance to break the monotony of incarceration. Like all others invited to participate, the inmates of the jails would know that this effort was going on in the community—that they were not being singled out for something special. This knowledge could help them decide to be more accepting of getting involved. Also, if some of these people were counseled, the fact that they knew choice theory would make the counseling much more effective.
The best-trained laypeople in choice theory I have ever met are a group of about fifteen prisoners doing long stretches in an Oklahoma penitentiary. They did not consider learning these ideas a chore at all. They loved doing so and said it was very helpful in the stressful place where some of them were going to spend the rest of their lives. Again, all that needs to be done is to teach choice theory and ask how people are using it.
In a quality community, the following might be a conversation during a routine first visit between a parole officer and a twenty-two-year-old man who was released from prison after twenty-six months for purse snatching and possession of drugs. If he repeated this behavior and was caught, he would face a much longer sentence. With his four or five juvenile offenses plus the time he was shot in a gang fight and had to be operated on, the community had spent more than $75,000 on him (not including the cost of his time in state prison), and he has yet to make a monetary contribution other than occasionally paying sales taxes. His chances of going back to prison would be very high if something different wasn’t offered. The parole officer would start by saying, “Do you understand what is expected of you?”
“Yeah, no drugs, no booze, report on time, stay away from my old friends, and go to work. Oh, and come here on time.”
“And be prepared to give a urine sample anytime we call you in. And bring a list of the places you looked for work.”
“No sweat. I’m clean. I wanna work.”
“Well, we still have a few more minutes. How do you think I can help you? I want to do what I can to see you stay out of trouble.”
“You don’t have to worry about me, man, I’m cool.”
“I don’t have to, but I do. I’m worried about you right now.”
“What are you worried about? I told you, I’m cool.”
“I’m worried about what you think about.”
“Think about? I don’t think about anything. Don’t bother yourself about my thinking. I’m cool.”
“Have you ever read a book and talked about it?”
“A book, are you kidding? I never read a book in my life. I never got through the ninth grade. It was all those books that killed me. What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about we have nothing to talk about. Telling me you’re cool is the same as telling me nothing. You can read, can’t you?”
“Of course I can read. But if you’re thinking about sending me to college, forget it. I’m trying to tell you I’m just not the kind of dude that reads books.”
“You’re also not the kind of dude that stays out of jail very long. People who never read books spend a lot of time in prison.”
“What are you talking about? A lot of guys in there read all the time, and some of them are never going to get out. What good did books do them?”
“They didn’t read until they got the time. If you go back, you may start reading, too. I want you to start now. Do something you’ve never done before.”
“You’re the boss. You got a book, I’ll read it. I’m cool.”
“No, I don’t have a book; I have a book group. I want you to go to a book group. They’ll talk about a book that a lot of people in this town are reading. It’s not just for guys who’ve been in prison; it’s for everybody.”
“A group of dudes like me in a book group, you got to be kidding. Is this a joke?”
“No, it’s not a joke. It’s going on around here all the time. I think you’ll find it more interesting than talking to me. It’s all about you. It really is.”
“What do you mean about me?”
“You’ll find out as soon as you go to the group. I’m getting a group together now. Call me in a week, and I’ll tell you where to go.”
“I gotta do it?”
“You gotta do it.”
“Or you’ll bust me?”
“Put it this way. I’ll be a lot easier to get along with if you do. The group meets once a week for two hours. They’ll take attendance. Go four times and then if you want to quit, I’ll listen to you. How about that?”
This could be a real addition to what the officer could do. Again, the men and women involved would appreciate that they were not being singled out for special treatment.
GETTING STARTED—THE INITIAL STEPS
Since developing a quality community based on choice theory has never been done before, exactly what we will do together in Corning will have to be worked out at the time. Those who participate in the initial group are very important. If they are community leaders, they will be asked a lot of questions by the media. If their answers demonstrate strong support for this program, we will have a good chance to succeed. The committee agreed to try to persuade at least a hundred people, most of them leaders in the community, to read this book initially. This is the group that will meet with Carleen and me.
Between now and then, the best way to convince the people we need to get started is to begin with whoever has regular contact with people in the community. In this initial phase, the committee may approach ministers who could communicate this need to their congregations. The message—bringing the community together—would be especially appropriate for church groups. I can also see the committee approaching community service groups and even the host of a radio talk show. Any place in the community where people routinely get together is a good place to explain the process and how interested people may get involved in the initial group. But I think the top people need to be approached personally by other leaders whom they know.
Two women in Corning, who already have some training in choice theory, have agreed to make themselves available to explain the program to interested groups and, if there is time, to interested individuals. For other interested communities, we have people trained in the use of choice theory all over the United States and Canada, as well as in a dozen other countries. I am sure these people would be glad to help any community get started.
For the first group, it would be wise for them to read this book with someone else and talk about it with that person as they go along. A husband and a wife would be the easiest, but any two people who will discuss it would be fine as long as one or both agree to attend the first meeting (to ensure that there are at least one hundred people at the planning meeting). But anyone else who has read the book, I hope including those from the media, should be made welcome at the first meeting. I will leave the composition of the first group up to the committee, but I believe the following people should be considered:
1. those who are part of the political power structure: the mayor, members of the city council, the city manager, local state and federal officeholders, and political party leaders
2. those who are part of the business and labor administrative structure, for example, representatives of Corning Glass, labor unions, utility companies, private businesses, banks, insurance companies, realtors, and booksellers
3. newspaper, radio, and television executives and reporters
4. religious leaders
5. judges of the juvenile, adult, and family courts and correctional officers
6. representatives of social service, welfare, and charitable institutions, charitable foundations, the department of parks, and recreational people
7. educational leaders at all levels, from preschools to colleges, public and private, as well as some student leaders who are juniors and seniors in high school
8. the medical and counseling community, including administrators of managed care organizations or HMOs, physicians, nurses, physical and occupational therapists, counselors, psychologists, and social workers, both public and private
9. representatives of the police and fire departments
10. interested citizens who have been involved in community work, including the arts; garden and environmental activists; and advocates of civil liberties
11. representatives of women’s groups, civil rights groups, racial and ethnic groups, senior citizens’ groups and such organizations as the YMCA and YWCA
12. representatives of service clubs like the Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, Elks, American Association of University Women
13. some of the traditional skeptics, curmudgeons, naysayers, wet blankets, and obstructionists who read the book
14. anyone else you can think of.
If Corning gets off to a good start, I would advise any group who wants to start this process in their community to come to Corning and talk to the people who were part of this initial effort. In the first meeting in Corning, we will try to generate a plan to persuade a large group of people in the community to read the book. I believe that the intellectual interest is there. The good reading weather of a cold Corning winter will also be on our side.
READERS’ GROUPS—THE ONGOING EDUCATIONAL PHASE
Given that there will be community support from the hundred or more leaders and others who read the book for the initial conference, a good way to get the rest of the community reading is to form readers’ groups from volunteers at the first meeting. The more these people are known and respected in the community, the more they will be able to help the program. For example, it would be powerful if the chief of police was involved and then agreed to lead a group. It would also make it easier for the chief to ask his officers to get involved. But there should be no arm twisting. External control is not the way to a quality community.
The initial leaders of the reading groups do not have to be experts. All they will need is a good sense of humor and some people skills. Many of the people with the ability to lead these groups will be found among the retired. Nothing ages a retired person with a good brain faster than not using it, and this could be an exciting way to use it. If we can get ten group leaders from the initial planning group of a hundred each to fill their groups with about ten people who have some interest in becoming future leaders, we will be off to a good start. Even before the first meeting, the people from the initial group, who are already interested in leading reading groups, should start to get their groups together.
Natural leaders will arise in the initial group and in all subsequent groups, and the ideas will spread the ideas through a ripple effect. The readers’ groups will decide how long they want to meet as they go along; there will probably be a great deal of variation, depending on the makeup of the groups. Even while the readers’ groups are meeting, people in the groups who would like to lead groups themselves may get such groups together. I can see people in the group inviting others who may be interested to meetings so they can see for themselves what is going on.
Once these meetings get going, there will have to be an information and coordination office with a phone and a computer to register people who want to be in reading groups, make up groups, assign leaders, and keep track of everything. Some information about the people who register can be used to form compatible groups, but how to do so, or if it is wise, will be learned during the process. In the beginning, there may be many diverse groups and then, as the leaders arise, the groups may become more homogeneous.
High school students should be involved, perhaps as part of their English or social studies classes or as part of their community service, but all students should be offered the chance to learn these ideas. If they wish, juniors and seniors can be assigned to adult groups so they feel as if they are being treated as equals in this process. However, no student should be asked to read this book without parental permission.
The bookstores in which the book is sold should be encouraged to make up displays that tell what is going on in Corning, and pamphlets discussing the project should be available to all who are interested, especially, to those who buy the book. Bookstores might be anxious to cooperate with the committee to host discussions about the book. These sessions would be a good place to recruit people for the readers’ groups. Some groups can be made up of people who have read the book and want to keep meeting, and others can be for new people. Large and small planning meetings should be scheduled periodically with Carleen and me during the first two years so we can both contribute as well as learn.
THE IMPLEMENTATION PHASE
The major implementation will be the nonspecific readers’ groups in which each person is learning choice theory to use in his or her life. Then there will be specific readers’ groups, such as school groups, made up of students, teachers, and parents who are learning choice theory separately or together but as part of a school working to become a quality school. Other typical groups would be those composed of police officers, corrections officers, politicians, governmental administrators, health professionals, recreational workers, social service workers, and the judiciary and trial attorneys; the list is long.
I can even envision a group of homeless people getting together for dinner and a discussion of the book. What these groups will have in common is that they will not be therapy groups; their aim will be to introduce their members to choice theory and encourage them to learn it by using it in their lives and, where applicable, their work. Almost all the nonspecific groups will be led by volunteers. The specific groups will be led mainly by professionals, with volunteers helping if necessary.
The other part of the implementation will be to introduce helping professionals, including psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, marriage and family counselors, counselors of employee assistance plans, substance abuse counselors, and pastoral counselors, who are interested in using choice theory in their work but who have not yet been involved in readers’ groups, nonspecific or specific. In Corning, I will offer to get involved with these professionals who have read the book to explain how choice theory is combined with reality therapy in the work I do. After this explanation and demonstration, if they want further training, they can contact the William Glasser Institute, which provides this training all over the world.
With the exception of professional training, which would be optional, the cost of implementing this program in any community would be minimal because the specific readers’ groups, the heart of the program, would be led by volunteer employees from the organizations that are involved. Thus, whatever costs there were would be to set up and administer the nonspecific readers’ groups. Moreover, every dollar the community spends on what I am suggesting will be reimbursed tenfold by what is saved, plus untold amounts of reduced human misery.
By far the greatest effect of the program would be on everyone’s life. Each individual and family who learns the choice theory has a much better chance than they have now of finding more happiness, and there are research instruments to measure these savings. But the reductions in the more obvious problems—illness, family violence, school failure, juvenile and adult crime, family separations and divorces, unrest in the workplace, and drug abuse—can definitely be measured. Some of those statistics are being gathered now.
To avoid guesswork and speculation, the Corning committee has agreed to apply for a grant to hire a researcher to find out what has been good for the community and what money has been saved by this effort. This would be a wonderful project for a social science doctoral student under the supervision of professors who have expertise in this kind of research. There is a lot to be done, but Carleen and I are thankful for this opportunity and will do all we can to help. This is a pilot project. Our goal is to show other communities that working together, we can successfully challenge the flat line on the graph of human progress. It’s time to move that line up.
As of October 1, 1998, the Quality Community Project in Corning, New York, is well under way. It is called the Choice Project and has been set up as a five-year effort with a director, funding, and a business plan. Currently two researchers have expressed interest in following the project.