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A Community of Support

jeanne's first computer version of I Can Do this!

Repeating Sounds that Make Us Feel Good

 

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Created: December 26, 2006
Latest Update: January 6, 2007

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Topic of the Week: I Feel Good 'cause I Can Do This

This "I Feel Good" series of files and its images and stories date from AIDS/HIV reporting after Katrina, the disastrous hurricane that destroyed New Orleans in August of 2005. Despite Alfie Kohn's disapproval of "Good Dog"s for people, we use them often to each other as a means of coding socio-emotional support for one another in reclaiming our identities and projecting confidence. A favorite phrase I hear myself muttering frequently is "I can do this!" Yes, I can. And when I hear "Good dog" echoed from a friend, I know I'm not alone, and I'm encouraged to hang in there and keep trying..

Alfie Kohn doesn't like the phrase "Good dog," when used to humans, because he equates it with giving gold stars and M&Ms as a reward for learning. I can relate to that. I never gave gold stars or M&Ms. I think that behaviorism misses the point in education. The reward for learning is the very "I can do this" that marks my recognition that I really can, and encourages and motivates me. Learning is it's own reward. Learning how to make us all feel more empowered, more confident, is what keeps me here at this computer long after retirement. Susan would say, "Intense Excitement." But when Susan is too busy even to write, and we haven't talked in a few days, I find an e-mail saying "good dog, good dog, good dog." It's code for "sorry I'm tied up, but I'm glad you were able to get those new paintings and files done." It's collegial jargon. Saves us lots of time. A "good dog" suffices to communicate our respect for each other's work. Good feeling. Good motivation to continue.

I picked up the term "good dog" from a dog training class. Arnold, my husband, was as distractable as Bagle, the Great Dane he was purportedly training. Drove the trainer nuts. As I watched, I realized the importance of the "good dog" in helping the dog know when he was "getting it right," "on the right track." I thought of Alan Ryave's work on compliments, and how we often fail to compliment people and creatures by holding back socio-emotional support. Giving socio-emotional support is one of the indicators of leadership in Bales' analysis of face-to-face groups.

Recall that the infant learns to repeat the soothing cooing sounds of the mother when she leaves the room. If "good dog" has been coded to send the message of support, it has a completely different meaning based on our adaptation of the pleasant support for the dog as the same thing for ourselves. Alfie Kohn doesn't like the association with dog training. But I love dogs. So that part doesn't bother me. Though I do suggest that you talk such praise over before you use the term with someone who may feel as Kohn does. Kohn probably doesn't like the association with stimulus modification and behavioral training either. But I associate "good dog" with "sneaky strokes," so once again, I don't have the same dislike of the term.

So where did "I feel good" come from? That phrase started, as far as I know, with James Brown. A nurse in New Orleans, Jeanne Dumestre, let her patients press the button on the James Brown doll to make it sing and bounce to "I Feel Good." Honest. So both Susan and I have one of the James Brown dolls for our workshops. I wrote about the nurse and this ritualized tradition of joy in 2006, long after Katrina, as New Orleans was coming alive slowly. The nurse chose to stay in New Orleans and provide guidance to those who had the extra burden of dealing with illness as the city tried to recover. I'll find that story as I clean up the site, but that may take a while. Meanwhile, just let me tell the story of the great joy of discovering that we CAN do this and share the joy it brings us. jeanne

Instead of making a New Year's Resolution that may bring stress as you try to follow your new rule, why not learn to sing and dance to a little of "I Feel Good" whenever you do something that's good for you and those you care about? Celebrate! Don't punish yourself or anyone else. Celebrate the good stuff! love and peace, jeanne

 

References:

  • New Orleans Nurse Practitioner to Women With HIV Story of Jeanne Dumestre on The Body.com: HIV Leadership Awards 2005.

    Interviewer: "What's the key to a great healthcare provider/patient relationship?"

    Jeanne Dumestre: "I think the key is honesty, not being a dictator and being able to laugh together. I use humor as much as possible. Accessibility and availability are extremely important. I have to be available to my patients, because the earlier I can take care of a problem, the better the outcome.

    "One of my favorite "innovations" is my James Brown animated doll. I have a sign that reads "I feel good if you feel good: You can turn on James Brown if you've done any of the following: Lose weight if you need to, gain weight if you need to, achieve an undetectable viral load, stop abusing drugs, alcohol or cigarettes." If a client has done any of these, she can push a button that makes the James Brown doll sing and dance to his signature song "I Feel Good." We often dance together and end with a hug and a big congratulations. Clients now remind ME that they get to turn on James Brown."

    About three fifths of the way down the file. File accessed on January 8, 2007.

    I came across this interview, by the way, because I had remembered the Principal in New Orleans in 1949, who had refused to have a Valedictorian for our 8th grade class because I had won the honor instead of her favorite. That hurt an awful lot. When I remembered her name, Mrs. Dumestre, I did a search, looking to see if her family still lived in New Orleans, after all that has happened. The name is still there, but who knows if they're related to her? Instead, I foused on this interview with Jeanne Dumestre. At least some of the branches in that family are cool. Celebrate the "good stuff." jeanne

  • "I Feel Good" 'cause I Can Do This! Permanent file for "I feel good."
  • Brief definition of impression management
  • Impression Management Online copy of Goffman's chapter on impression management on Ridener's site at Pfeiffer.
  • Sneaky Strokes Gestures that make people feel good without being obvious. Once taught in managment workshops on how to help managers be more effective and enjoy being better liked. Broadcast of National Public Radio years ago. jeanne
  • E-mails between jeanne and Susan on "good dogs" and sneaky strokes backstage.
  • Alfie Kohn's Web Site

Announcements:

  • Say Thank You to our troops:

    In the process of reviewing new additions to the Snopes site, I discovered the link to The Let's Say Thanks to Our Troops Site. I chose a postcard and message. As the administration insists upon a surge in troops, we need to let the troops know we understand and appreciate the sacrifice they are making. When you're in the midst of a war, you don't have the leisure of questioning whether your country made the right decision in going to war. That's for us here at home to argue. This is the equivalent to one of our "good dog"s but don't use that term to the troops. They don't know about our collegial jargon. They might think the reference to a dog pejorative, as Alfie Kohn does. Remember that every message must consider the context. For us, "good dog" is a shorthand way to offer emotional support. But that's backstage behavior. If you're not privy to our backstage, you may be put off by things we say because you don't know our history and the context. love and peace, jeanne

  • Grades at CSUDH from Fall 2006: Check Issue No. 14, Week of December 3, 2006, for any information you need on winding up this semester at CSUDH.

Summaries and Sources