Friday, February 19, 2010


What does a gay co-counseling leader have in common with a Mormon business consultant?

"David Nijinsky " (not his real name--and that's a long story) is the Assistant Liberation Reference Person for Gay Men in Re-evaluation Counseling, also known as co-counseling.

I was a co-counselor for many years and I think it is an extremely worthwhile tool for personal growth. It's a process for listening to another person and encouraging them to 'discharge'--basically, a process of emotional catharsis--in order to free up their thinking. This allows them to 're-evaluate' their experiences. I've been to a number of co-counseling classes and workshops, but David's workshop for Gay and Bisexual Men that I went to in 2007 was by far the best workshop I've taken.

I went because I'm bisexual and wanted to explore a bit more about my sexuality. I expected a workshop focused on issues around sexuality and discrimination, and there was a bit of that. But the real focus of the workshop was on working on ourselves in order to be better agents of social change. David was very clear that he was urging us, in whatever way we felt appropriate, to make change in the world. His stated goals began with 'An end to Gay oppression' and went onto the 'Complete transformation of society'. He even used the word 'revolution' several times--the first time I've heard it seriously advocated since the eighties.

Even when he dealt with issues about shame and guilt around sexuality, he made it clear that he wanted us to move beyond them so we could be more effective in the world. He told us the reason to work on this stuff was "It's not that we're bad and need to be fixed, it's that we're important and we need our minds."

But David's main message was that we needed to decide how we wanted to be in the world. He pointed out that walking with an attitude of despair was not conducive to influencing people to change. He said that being hopeful wasn't a feeling, it was a decision. Being completely confident, according to David, is a decision. He put signs on the wall that said: "HOPE ", "CONFIDENCE", "ENTHUSIASM", and "UNITY", and he expected us to decide to be hopeful, confident, and enthusiastic.

In co-counseling, one of the tools that's used is what's called a 'direction'. It's a statement that is expected to bring up feelings but often points us toward where the counselor or leader thinks we should be going. David's direction that year for gay and bisexual men was that we should say: "From now on, I will fit in, at the center, WANTED, CONNECTED, CONFIDENT, CO-OPERATIVE, and IN CHARGE, and I will see to it that everything around me goes well, ESPECIALLY MY LIFE." I now say a variation on that every morning as I start my day. I think that it's an incredibly useful direction/affirmation/pledge (or whatever you need to call it) for everyone, gay or bi or straight, male or female, trans or cis. Try saying it slowly, pausing at the commas, and see how well it fits what you are doing in your life. This is about deciding how you want to be in your life.

Stephen Covey is a Mormon, a business management consultant, and a professor in the School of Business at Utah State University. His book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, has sold more than 15 million copies since it was first published in 1989. One of the blurbs inside (and there are seven pages of blurbs inside my copy of the book) is from USA Today, claiming "Covey is the hottest self-improvement consultant to hit US business since Dale Carnegie." He is not someone I would expect to be a major influence in my life.

But the book, The Seven Habits, is just very, very useful. It is a straight foreward blueprint on how to change your life and is as helpful to those wanting to change society as it is for those wanting to rise on the corporate ladder. I hope to do a whole post on it in the future. (Or maybe I'll cover it a chapter at a time...)

The first chapter in The Seven Habits focuses on first habit: to 'Be Proactive'. Covey begins by telling the story of Viktor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist who was put in a concentration camp by the Nazis. There he was subject to dehumanizing treatment. Frankl lost all of his freedoms except what he called "the last of the human freedoms"--being able to choose how all of this would affect him. In other words, no matter what the situation, he was responsible for his attitude. Covey goes on to quote Eleanor Roosevelt ("No one can hurt you without your consent.") and Gandhi ("They cannot take away our self-respect if we do not give it to them."). He differentiates proactive and reactive people by saying that "Proactive people can carry their own weather with them."

Covey talks about the differences in the language of reactive and proactive people. Reactive people say things like "There's nothing I can do," "That's just the way I am," "I have to do that," "I can't," and "I must." Proactive people say, "Let's look at our alternatives," "I can choose a different approach," "I will choose an appropriate response," "I choose," "I prefer," and "I will." He claims reactive people focus on the "Have's", as in "If only I had...", "If I could just have...", and "I'll be happy when I have..." In contrast, proactive folks focus on the "Be's": "I can be more patient, be wise, be loving. ... I can be more resourceful, I can be more diligent, I can be more creative, I can be more cooperative."

Stephen Covey says that "the very heart" of this approach is when we are willing to make (and keep!) commitments and promises. In other words, we need to make decisions. We get to choose who we are. We are responsible for how we are. This is where a gay counseling leader and a Mormon business consultant (not to mention a Jewish psychiatrist who survived the concentration camps) agree. No matter what the circumstances, you get to choose your attitude. You get to choose your response. It may be hard, but it's still your choice. You decide.

Quote of the Day: " is a verb. Reactive people make it a feeling. ...
"Love is something you do: the sacrifices you make, the giving of self... Love is a value that is actualized through loving actions." - Stephen Covey

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