Dave Shearon, MAPP, applies positive psychology to both law and education. Dave writes articles about applications of Positive Psychology to law and education at his site. He co-authored the recently published book, Smart Strengths: Building Character, Resilience and Relationships in Youth. Full bio.
Dave's articles are here.
This article is about morale and organizations helping us change for the better. Have you got any stories about great morale in an organization and its effect on the members? Maybe how a terrific leader or group response to a challenge improved morale? Let’s hear your story!
Christopher Peterson, a faculty member for the MAPP program, his research partner Nansook Park, and Patrick Sweeney of the United States Military Academy have published “Group Well-Being: Morale from a Positive Psychology Perspective” in Applied Psychology: An International Review. They note that the study of institutions that enable those things that make life worth living is “the acknowledged weak link of positive psychology” and suggest that research on “morale” as a group level construct can move the field forward in this area. Since I am working now on a 90-minute presentation I will give at the 1L orientations of two law schools in Tennessee in August, this article connects my thoughts both on organizations and on initiating and facilitating individual change and growth.
The authors suggest that morale is both an individual and a group construct and should be studied at both levels with methodologically independent measures. Peterson et al. note that positive psychology has made progress in studying other ordinary language concepts by articulating their dimensions and devising separate measures for them, e.g., happiness includes dimensions of pleasure, engagement, and meaning. The components they suggest for morale are:
- Optimism (both future expectations and explanatory style)
- Belief in capabilities
- Mutual trust and respect
- Social Cohesion — friends at work
- Common purpose
- Compelling group history
- Sense of moral rightness
They note that most of these components can be characteristics of both the individual and the group, though some apply only at one level of analysis. Further, it may be that different morale profiles may be required in different organizations — a baseball team may not need the same configuration of morale as a combat brigade or a transplant surgery team.
Law schools are where morale goes to die, both at the individual and group levels. As I have written in “Dear Ann Althouse — No, it’s not ok“:
Although they look much like other undergraduates coming in, by the end the first year 30% are depressed, and it goes to 40% by the end of law school. Drinking as a coping behavior goes up. Anxiety, hostility and paranoia increase. And, there is a shift from intrinsic to extrinsic motivations for practicing law. In other words, students go from wanting to do good to wanting to get the goods. And these trends continue into practice where lawyers lead the professions in the rate of depression. To put it mildly, this is not good for clients!
For evidence of the morale-killing dynamic in law schools, see my description of the response of Ms. Althouse and James White to the data on the effect of the law school experience on students.
As I am working on how to help law students thrive rather than wither, I have been reviewing the work of Prochaska and colleagues on the steps of change and the processes that support those steps. One of the processes is “social liberation.” I think the term “liberation” was chosen because most of Prochaska’s work focuses on freedom from self-destructive habits, particularly smoking. Thus, the proliferation of no-smoking zones would be a “social liberation” process available to the individual seeking to quit smoking. That individual can adopt those zones as a support for the process of change. From a growth perspective of attempting to develop and engage strengths, hope, optimism, resilience and other positive qualities, the term “social support” makes more sense to me.
How do our organizations, such as law schools, support (or hinder) the development and use, both individually and in a group context, of positive human qualities? It strikes me that the study of morale may offer us new pathways in this area.
Peterson, C., Park, N., & Sweeney, P. (2008). Group Well-Being: Morale from a Positive Psychology Perspective. Applied Psychology, 57-S1, 19.36. Abstract.
Prochaska, J. O., Norcross, J. C. & Diclemente, C. C. (1994). Changing for Good: A Revolutionary Six-Stage Program for Overcoming Bad Habits and Moving Your Life Positively Forward. New York: HarperCollins.
Shearon, D. (2007, Feb 20). Dear Ann Althouse — No, it’s not ok. Positive psychology for lawyers and education leaders.