Mutual aid as integral part of the 12 Step recovery program


The other day I was taking my grandchildren to a children’s amusement center here at home. My oldest grandchild ( 13 years) has an IPhone with a GPS(Global Positioning System) integrated with his phone. So, as we were traveling along on our way to our destination, he points out to me that his GPS indicated we were going the  wrong way. Alas, I turned off the road,  turned the car around and headed in the direction of the children’s amusement center-just as the GPS directed me.

Not too long ago I came in contact with a captivating and insightful work by a Russian author who  described how everything in the natural world, human, animal and  plant life is able to survive because of mutuality among its  species. As many  believe, it is only by the  survival of the fittest that ensures ones survival in the natural world. It is this fact, according to Darwin, which  makes  it possible for its members to survive the struggle between individual members for the means of existence.

Peter  Kropotkin, who was a Russian Prince and an anarchist had these  important words to share about his belief in mutual aid among all species. In the foreword to his work on Mutual Aid the editor tells us how Kropotkin

 drew on his experiences in scientific expeditions in Siberia to illustrate the phenomenon of cooperation. After examining the evidence of cooperation in nonhuman animals, “savages,” “barbarians,” in medieval cities, and in modern times, he concludes that cooperation and mutual aid are as important in the evolution of the species as competition and mutual strife, if more so.

It was in reading this masterful work, Mutual aid: A Factor of Evolution, which was written over a 100 years ago, and all  based on scientific observations in  the real world that Professor Kessler, the  a well known Russian zoologist, in an address  (1880)  to Russian naturalists who is said to have understood the full importance of Mutual Aid as a  law of Nature. The following is part of  that lecture:

I obviously do not deny the struggle for existence, but I maintain that the progressive development of the animal kingdom, and especially of mankind, is favored much more by mutual support than by mutual struggle…All organic beings have two essential needs: that of nutrition, and that of propagating the species. The former brings them to a struggle and to mutual extermination, while the needs of maintaining the species bring them to approach one another and to support one another.  But I am inclined to think that in the evolution of the organic world  — in the progressive modification of organic beings –mutual support among individuals plays a much more important part than their mutual struggle.

I have written all this today just to arouse  the reader’s interest in the power of mutual aid to form viable, supportive   communities–while struggle for survival works against itself and  community formation with self serving individual concerns,  which may lead to more divisiveness and fragmentation in established societies and communities.

In our day,  the “selfies”  mentality mirrors a trend in our societies where the individual now stands like a nomad  in a desert, without  reference points to  past societal traditions which gave value and meaning to one’s life.  Familial breakdown, loss of traditional religious beliefs, migration, poverty and the disappearance of tribal and national customs gradually erase connections between peoples that were formerly in place  providing  support and a sense of security and trust  for the life of the individual and the  community where they lived. 

This leads us to a brief discussion on the importance of the  establishment of mutual aid groups, support groups in our society today.  Mutual aid group members are an integral part of a community where there is fellowship, support and mutuality. When   one member suffers, all members suffer with them and support them. No one suffers alone. No one is an isolated individual who swims alone in today’s  modern cultures of individual competition and struggle.

Amazing as it is, the 12 Steps have brought to us a way out of our isolation and a way into a supportive community and mutuality. Truly, these groups  promote the belief that everyone is equal in the fellowship — mutuality lived out in the real world–and all members of the group come together to serve each other with hope. The mutual aid given to each other in the group provides a dynamic positioning of one’s life so as to  live life with each other with hope and love. One has  a concern for the welfare of all just  as one’s own welfare becomes the concern of all.



SOURCE: Mutual Aid: A factor of evolution. Peter Kropotkin. (1902, 2008) Forgotten Books. Org.


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