Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Great Minds and "I Can"

Zig Ziglar asks in his motivational seminar series: Why is that with only 3 million Americans in 1776, we produced Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, Paine, and many more, and today, with over 300 million Americans we produced...

He lets the words hang intentionally. It is a powerful question to ponder.

Later he talks about an inner city LA school with all the problems inner city schools have; how they started an "I Can" program and solved the problems. The "I Can" program started to reward kids for good behavior rather than focus on punishing bad behavior. Teachers and administrators would give coupons or points to kids caught picking up trash, helping another student, being polite to others, and so on. Six months later there were zero instances of drugs, graffiti, assault, or other crime. He goes on to explain an administrator talking about six kids chasing down one piece of trash blowing across the school yard from an adjacent park. When the picture of themselves changed, they changed. And the community was better for it. Most of all, the kids learned so much about themselves. What it is like to help others, be kind, and respect their community.

I bring this up because I think the United States has it all wrong when dealing with crime. We have over 2.5 million people in our prisons and jails as I write this, and the problem continues to grow. No society has ever incarcerated so many per capita or per volume, save modern Russia. The policy doesn't work. Most of these people will rejoin society with a chip on their shoulder. The families that are broken become bitter and the cycle keeps on growing. Even worse, some states are opening prison doors due to economic contraints. Is this really the way to run a society?

I am an optimist. I think an "I Can" program for adults would go much further than building another prison. It would work like this. Businesses would allow the police to hand out $5 certificates redeemable for services. Fast food restaurants and retail stores would find this a low-cost advertising program. The stores wouldn't be charged for distribution of the certificates. They would just have to provide the $5 discount, their only cost.

The police would reward adults and children alike. Imagine: You pull into a parking lot and a police officer follows you. (I don't think the police should pull anyone over for this.) The officer says to you as you leave your car, "I noticed back there you yielded right-of-way when you didn't have to. That was neighborly of you." He then hands a certificate for the store you are at.

I know I am crazy, but imagine: A probation agent rewarding an individual for good behavior rather than gearing toward punishment for bad behavior. If you want attention, do good. The person on probation for DUI gets recognition or a certificate for a period of sobriety. A prison inmate gets additional privileges for walking away from a fight. Instead of punishing bad actions, reward the positive and reinforce it.

A blog post is too short to spell out the whole program as it sits in my head. Maybe I live in an idealized world... in my head. It's my world as I see it. I think we would all be better off praising the uplifting. We should end our squandering of resources dealing with bad behavior only. Just think, fewer victims and lower taxes. Am I really nuts to think this is worth trying?

I know we still need jails for the incorrigible. But how many are really incorrigible? How many became incorrigible from the ongoing cycle? And is it possible to prevent people from becoming this way by adjusting our view of ourselves. How does it make you or the officer feel when an arrest takes place? If the police are friends rather than accuser, our community is better off.

In Japan, where crime is significantly lower than it is in the United States, where it is safe to walk the streets, day or night, the attitude is different. People have a high moral view of their community and feel they belong. We can learn a lot from those succeeding at social stability.

I dream. Our world can be better. I can say thank you, smile, be kind and friendly, pick up the trash, and speak highly of my community. I dream. It starts with me. I can do this. One person at a time, we make our society a better place. I bet it is contagious.

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