Launch pads

This week I am writing about giving and generosity. As the calendar year closes and a new year approaches, I often find that I review my actions and thoughts of the past several months. What have I done? Where did that notion originate? Did it advance me as a human? How? Why?

One mental tool that I sometimes use came to me from a meditation that I tried nearly 40 years ago. The first time I used the technique, I held up a wet washcloth as the object under consideration. I studied it carefully for several moments and asked, “Where did this come from?” I thought of the store from which I purchased it. Then, “But, where did that come from?” Over the next several minutes, I traced the washcloth’s history from vendor, to manufacturer, producer, grower, seed and soil, mutation, weed, and so on. This approach usually lands me in state of wonder and deep appreciation.

That’s the sort of thinking I do at year’s end.

My thoughts about generosity seem to be headed in a similar direction, but I am also eager to promote more thoughts and more conversations about giving. I hope you will have some discussion about your giving, what prompts it, where you get stuck, how it is challenging and rewarding. Sharing your thoughts and experiences about giving through social media and comments on this blog would be a great gift.

When I trace my own interests in giving, particularly to social issues, I am eventually brought to my undergraduate days at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. Back then, it was not the major research university it is today. The majority of buildings were dark red brick structures, two- to four-stories tall, in a vaguely gothic style. Some sported gargoyles. It was a former state teachers’ college and women’s institution and still looked like one. Wooden stairs creaked under the weight of masses of students headed to classrooms filled well beyond their original intention. We were an interesting mix of GI Bill, first generation, working class, draft deferred students.

Alfred Adler

Because I was raised poor and the only person in my immediate family, in fact the first in my generation, to go to college, I felt out of place and ill-prepared to be there. I have written and spoken elsewhere how interpersonal and institutional homophobia prevented me from declaring psychology as my major, but delaying a psychology major exposed me to the work of Alfred Adler and the profession of community psychologist. When I elected my second choice as major, secondary education, I was afforded the opportunity to learn about the work of Adler and Rudolph Dreikurs, his student and proponent of his work in education and parenting.

Rudolph Dreikurs

Even though I later became a licensed psychologist and worked with individual clients, my affinity remained with Adler’s theories that went beyond that individual focus, integrating international, environmental, political, cultural, and social factors into my understanding of issues and problems. True to Adler’s teaching, I have worked as an educator, university instructor, policy developer, evaluator, community researcher, consultant, public health worker, and program organizer. During my clinical internship, I was regularly questioned about what appeared to my supervisors to be sociological approach to individual problems. But my work was not informed by sociology; I had become a student of Adler’s community psychology.

Just last week I was working with a beloved colleague, editing a program description she was writing. I offered that her draft seemed to suggest that a common problem that some young people had was in them instead of being done to them. Putting it another way, her words suggested that something was wrong with these youth. In fact, what they were all doing was being creative in addressing the suboptimal conditions in which they live. Fair and diverse participation was stymied for them by racism, ageism, and capitalism. These youth are making a go of things anyway. That is what my colleague believes as well, but her words were trapped in the popular myth of internal, personal deficits.

When I hold up to scrutiny my beliefs on giving and generosity, I see my desire to:

  • Promote wellness and well-being,
  • Develop and evaluate programs,
  • Use science,
  • Cooperate with others to solve problems,
  • Provide tools to others in the field,
  • Give an analysis of government and community conditions, and
  • Eliminate social inequity.

When I look carefully at these, I trace them back to my study of Adlerian Psychology and I am transported back to classes in Merrill, Garland, and Holton Halls.

Although UWM no longer enjoys a depth of study in the work of Alfred Adler, I have been fortunate to have found another university that carries that torch. Adler University, with campuses in Chicago, Vancouver, and online, has numerous graduate programs that advance the work of community psychology. Two of the founders of the university died during this past year, but the school is fortunate to have as its leader for 15 years, Raymond Crossman, PhD, a fellow Adlerian committed to Adler’s work. Adler University Trustees, ably led by Board Chair, Joy MacPhail, have partnered with Crossman to assemble a team that interprets and implements each academic term what it means to be an Adlerian institution that graduates socially responsible practitioners. In recent years, I have enjoyed my work with many of the leaders at Adler: Brad O’Hara, Sarah Fornero, Jo Beth Cup, Jeff Green, Craig Hines, Mary Jo Lamparski, Mitzi Norton, Wendy Paszkiewicz, Elena Quintana, and many others.

When I hold up for examination my beliefs and understanding of reality, Alfred Adler’s work eventually comes to mind. Giving to an institution that continues his legacy is an obvious choice for me. While I appreciate my alma mater, it is Adler University that I support financially because of their excellence and persistence in graduating socially responsible practitioners in the model of Alfred Adler.

To whom or what does your world view trace? How are you showing appreciation for that impetus? If you make alumni contributions, what is your decision making process like? I’d like to keep the conversation on generosity going in social media or in comments on this or other blog posts.


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