Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Just a Thought

Over the past months I've had some rather enthusiastic and energetic discussions with many of you regarding the idea of an independent body of independent people who might serve as a peer review group regarding the philosophy of happiness and the dialog. In this article, I'd like to propose the creation of such a peer group.

Peer Review
Peer review is a process by which the creative work and/or performance of an individual may be evaluated by other people in the same field in order to maintain or enhance the quality of the work or performance. The basic ideas is that a larger and more diverse group of people will usually find more weaknesses and errors in a work or performance and will be able to make a more impartial evaluation of it than will just the person or group responsible for creating the work or performance.

To obtain an unbiased evaluation, the peer review process depends on the independence of the reviewers to discourage potential favoritism shown to relatives, colleagues and friends. Typically, the reviewers are not selected from among the close colleagues, relatives or friends of the creator or performer of the work, and potential reviewers are required to disclose any potential conflicts of interest. Peer review helps maintain and enhance quality by identifying potential flaws in work and recommending alternatives that might correct those flaws.

I'm not familiar with the process by which folks who have carried on the wonderful work of Bruce Di Marsico determine what is included in the canon of his philosophy nor am I aware of how or whether or not they have process by which people are certified to conduct dialog sessions. I'm somewhat more familiar with the approach taken by others who've commercialized his philosophy.

In particular, the approach to review and certification is essentially the opposite of peer review; certification and review are conducted by a single group who assert exclusive ownership of the process and it at least appears to favor family members and friends. Further, certification of the quality of performance and/or creative work is lumped together with control of where and how one might practice the skills for which one has been certified. Several certificate holders have told me that they were told by staff at the Institute that that they would not be re-certified or not invited to participate in certain parts of the process simply because their activities were not viewed as "supportive" of the Institute.

Of course, the others can do whatever they want with their certification; after all, it's their certification. However, the philosophy, the methods and the dialogue are not. Therefore, I'd like to establish an independent process that is owned by no one in particular and focuses exclusively on the quality of the work or performance.

Getting Started
At first blush it seems that there are two or three basic tasks that are required to get all this underway. These tasks involve the creation of original work that would not be beholding to anyone or any group.

The Philosophical Canon
The first thing I'd like to create and have reviewed by peers is a canonical representation of the core philosophy of happiness. Over the past couple of weeks, I've started to take a cut at various pieces of this and have been thrilled with all the feedback I've received, some reinforcing what I'd written and other challenging it.

I'd like to take the process beyond my musings on various aspects of what is and what isn't the philosophy of happiness and collectively create a more formal thesis on what is. I'd be happy to work with others in any number of ways to do this. From taking a first cut myself and then asking for feedback from others, to creating an outline of the entire work and then dividing the work up among us, to simply coordinating the work of others.

My goal would be to have a clear, concise and immensely useful guide to the philosophy of happiness that would be owned by no one in particular and available to anyone free of charge (electronically) or for minimal charge (to cover costs) were we to create a physical book. A peer review process would be employed to ensure the quality of the work. Not everyone would have to agree on every item; however, wherever there were significant disagreements, we would always present the minority view along with the majority view.

Application via the Dialogue
The second order of business would be a similar document regarding the application of the philosophy in the form of talk-therapy referred to by many as the 'dialogue'. I would love to come up with a basic 'How to' guide for the applying the philosophy in the form of talk therapy, a sort of "Dialoguing for Dummies" kind of book (though I'd love to replace dialoguing with an actual verb).

Much has been written about the dialogue and there are many bits and pieces floating about that identify types of questions, types of experience (e.g., thoughts versus feelings versus beliefs), or techniques to be applied under various sets of circumstances. However, I am unaware of any clear and systematic presentation of the techniques that would survive formal scrutiny of peer review process.

I would love to create something that is clear, concise and simple, while also being comprehensive and systematic. As with the canon on the philosophy, I would like this to be done in a collaborative manner in which the results would be owned by no one in particular and available to anyone free of charge or at minimal cost where costs have been incurred.

Certification Process
The third task would be to establish a set of criteria and process by which practitioners might be certified in teaching the philosophy and/or providing talk therapy. Documentation of the criteria would be based upon the two documents I've outlined above. The review process would be conducted by a subset of peers selected at random so as to preclude cronyism.

The trickiest part would of course be getting started or bootstrapping as we call it in the software business (pulling yourself up by your bootstraps). My thought is to create a volunteer group of anyone who has been previously certified by Bruce's or the other organizations to conduct dialogues, and then as a group to determine the criteria and the process.

It could be that initially the intersection of the sets of ideas and beliefs is much smaller than the union; however, I also believe that through open exchange and in the absence of motivation to promote any specific brand of philosophy, we could arrive at a common set of criteria that we all agree upon.

Our goal would be to move toward consensus, identifying criteria upon which we agree and criteria upon which we don't. I believe that the result would be something that no one has yet fully conceived and that the result would far exceed the sum of the parts.

Once the criteria were established, the first task of the group would be to certify one another. Once a body of certified individuals were established, we could establish a process by which others might be certified.

In the case of certification, I would make all the criteria and documentation free of charge. However, I would want to at least minimally compensate individuals who spend their time reviewing the work of others as part of the certification process.

Open Source
In software, their is a concept called "open source". It's a process by which writers of software can make their work available to anyone for free and simultaneously protect the work from being picked up by others and marketed and sold as their own work, or even more importantly claimed as their own. I believe that many of the principles of open source apply to what I'm proposing here. There are standard licensing agreements that cover this type of work. I'll do a bit of research to ensure that whatever it is we come up with will remain in the public domain and cannot be copyrighted or trademarked by anyone else.

I believe that the philosophy of happiness and its application in the form of talk therapy and thought process can have a profound effect on our world. However, based upon the number of people familiar with the philosophy and its application, I believe we have not been good stewards of what we been given. I'd like to change that.

If you would like to join me in taking this to the next level, please leave a comment, but more importantly, please email me at as blogger isn't always great at ensuring that comments actually show up. Even if you're not interested in what I propose per se, I'd love to hear alternatives to what I've outlined above.

Happy Wednesday!


  1. I'm totally for the direction being stimulated. I am puzzled by the notion there is no clear and systematic presentation of the techniques that would survive formal scrutiny of peer review process. From my occasional referenceing 'power dialogues' and the original Bear Book, '2 luv is 2b happy,' I'm not sure what you're referring to would not survive review. Can you share some examples? bw

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  4. BW, thank you for your question. I think that what I'm talking about regarding formal scrutiny will become more apparent as we move forward. I'll come up with some examples for you later as I'm not sure I want to references PD on this site lest I draw wrath.

    Ari, thanks so much for your help up to now and going forward. I'd like to delve into the contrast of the displacement versus elimination that you refer to regarding the two brands of Option. I also look forward to seeing the Collected Works of Bruce all in one place. Sounds great!

    My hope is that we'll end up with something that isn't an attempt to clarify what is there, but that is clean in its roots (academically speaking). I'd like to garner insight from what has been written and said by Bruce, by the Kaufmans and by others. However, I'd like to end up with something that stands on its own and that is completely self-consistent, kind of a calculus: everything in it can be derived from core principles without external reference.

    I've spent a lot of time in academic circles and one of the things that I like about the sciences versus the arts is that things are not proven by reference, but by logic progression. When sitting with academics in the arts and softer sciences, you often hear, "So and so said thus and such..." and people will accept it as therefore supportive and validating. Essentially, they lend credibility to their own work vis-a-vis name dropping.

    While that can work in convincing people of your point (most people will accept this as valid), it's not science.

    So, I'd love to end up with some that uses anecdote for illustration, not for proof and that provides credit for concepts, but not so as to bolster credibility.

    Really looking forward to this project.


  5. umm, I was of the belief these original works are available currently. I was looking through the essay materials a shortwhile ago, and even fascilitated a dialogue for a friend with Deborah M, Bruce's widow.

    Ari, I don't believe Kaufman extolls his OI as: "Change your unhappy beliefs to better beliefs" I can't imagine him referring to beliefs that 'judgementally'. Repeatedly I hear him emphasize beliefs are simply beliefs.

    The Gift of a Question, ala OI, is to stimulate one towards realizing the freedom of chooseability, (volitional-consciousness) towards fascilitating discernment as to whether the beliefs one is holding are actually useful, and to what end they fascilitate the flavor of experience one puts on themselves.

    It's about realizing the option, and learning the value of accepting ownership of ones freedom of choice. IMHO

  6. Ari, I'm wondering if you deleted both comment posts on this blog by accident or if there was another reason to take of your response to this article? Iris

  7. Hi BenevolentWarrior, regarding the summary of Kaufman, "Change your unhappy beliefs to better beliefs", let me quote the Option Institute Website:
    The Option
    Institute: What We Teach

    "Good news: you can learn to systematically change your thinking...

    Creating new, supportive beliefs is the beginning of profound change."

    In contrast, Di Marsico emphasized only removing the support of necessity from unhappy beliefs ("I have to feel this way"), a purely subtractive process in regards to belief.

    In contrast to Kaufman's valuing of "profound change", Di Marsico talked about "The freedom to change and the freedom to stay the same.

    Which, personally, is more to my taste...

  8. Hi Iris,

    I realized that part of my communication really was meant as a private response to Mark, not public.

  9. interesting Ari. I'm not aware of Dimarsico not valuing the profoundness of change, as a free choice. Bears, I distinctly recall in his tapes and books speaks oftenly about beliefs, being freely chosen, and freely kept, or discarded, emphasizing the freedom. I don't see a measurable difference, or contrast, only parallel-speak, when DiMarsico shared with student Bears, Suzi, Mandy and others, that by removing the support of 'necessity,' or 'have to,' from unhappy beliefs, one realizes their freedom of choice.

    To reitterate, discovering ones freedom to change, or to stay with ones beliefs, one can,~~if they choose to, "learn to systematically change your thinking..." and

    "Create new, supportive beliefs as the beginning of profound change."

  10. Dear Mark,

    I would like to privately respond to your post. Would you please contact me through my web site at Thank you so much, Deborah Mendel Di Marsico.

  11. I am so excited to see the remarks from the people familiar with the Option Method - and I would love to give feedback.

  12. i would love to hear your feedback Joy :)

  13. Hi BW

    I was thinking of the philosofical canon that Mark is working /going to work on, what was you refering to when you said you would like to hear my feedback?

    I love the opensource idea, and I beleive that it is a great way of making happiness and the option idea bigger.


  14. Forgive me for being confused Joy.
    You stated you would like to GIVE feedback.....(as if waiting for permission)
    ....then you ask ME what I'm referring to???
    (when I INVITE you to explain or to share what it is you would like to give?)

    I'm not even sure Tef was simply working on a philosofical canon. I would hope it be more of a brave, invitation and stimulation towards a more fearless expression and awareness of an Option-ease approach to life and living. bw

  15. Hi Teflon,
    Seems to me that there already exist at least two canonical groups gathered around Option. One is The Option Institute and a second is the Option Method Network. Each offers what I construe as a canon of books, lectures, workshops and how-to resources. Whether called Option Dialogue Mentors or Option Method Practioners, I submit that their core members, who use "the questions" with loving curiosity, already interact at some level as peers. In various formats, they give feedback to each other on creative elaborations and applications of their respective Option constructs.

    Your post suggests that you believe those groups, their canons and peer interactions to be deficient. Want to create your own canon and call it "consensus"? Go for it. And while you do that, I suggest that you dispense with the illusion that you're offering anything more than variation on themes that have been, and continue to be, canonized and peer reviewed elsewhere.


  16. Hi Thad,
    Before responding, I was wondering if you've read many of my blogs or if you're reacting to just this one.

  17. Hi Teflon,
    Have read some other posts with varying degrees of appreciation and my response above is to this blog post. Why did you ask?

  18. Hi Thad,
    I asked as I wasn't sure that you had all the context or not. If not, I'm not sure I want to spend a lot of time rebuilding it via comments as it's already been documented via blogs over the past couple of months.

    Anyway, I believe you've somewhat absconded with the phrases 'canon' and 'peer review' as I'm not aware of either existing in regard to Option and I've received a lot of positive feedback that people would really like to see both in place. So, I'm not talking about construing and morphing what exists in such a fashion that would allow the loose application of these terms. I'm talking about a formal process based on the standard definition of the words.

    I'm not particularly interested in creating my own anything. However, I would agree that what we have is deficient. That doesn't mean that it's not wonderful. It just means that I don't believe it's all it can be. If you believe that there's no room for improvement, way cool. I disagree.

    I'm chuckling a bit about your advice regarding variations on a theme and nuances; if I were to follow you on that, we'd stop talking about Option altogether and simply go back to the original work by people like Carl Rogers and Albert Ellis.

    Thanks for your participation, Thad. Really awesome!


  19. Thadius, so delightful to hear from you again on this format. Have you been here, sort of lurking ;) for a while, or relatively new?

    Teflon-Mark how well do you know Thad?

    All I'm encouraging is stimulation, towards being open, (more public, more involved, more known)....rather than as seemingly uptight and controlling some seem to believe, (not disputing their right,) is most comfortable or perhaps 'safe.' To me to be otherwise, does not fit well with my illusions of what Option is all about, as put-together by Bruce. I have only gratitude and admiration for the baby-giant-steps Bears and co have accomplished from studying with (prof)Bruce. I like Teflon seems to be speaking to simply want 'more.' (more noise and awareness of it) More open (fearless,) dialogue one could say.... bw Larry

  20. Nope, my reading of public media fits no such dismissive characterization as "lurking". I come to the reading and leave as I please.

    Took a learning from recent posts: I tend to prioritize improvizing on what is over attempts at displacement thereof. For me that follows from a belief that there's nothing wrong with what is, and never has been. The "Just a Thought" post seems to advance a quiry about "why not do canon and peer review here? My question seems equally valid, as in "why ignore and dismiss the canon and control options already in place?" Seems to me that personal responses may hinge on a preference for following questions of "why" over "why not". I can appreciate elaborations on Option related canons in various settings, including Option Circle and the blog tab at for example. I'm less a fan of yet another formal structure for "peer review", which I interpret to be a superfluous control strategy.

    This blog seems useful enough, gleaning source materials as it does from existing canons, elsewhere trademarked and copyrighted.

    Ta ta,

  21. How is it you make my use of 'lurking' as dismissive Thad? It would make sense if I was being anything but curious about your point of reference, and harsh seeming criticism, judging the intent is displacement vs advancement and developemental improvement on a theme. bw

  22. Ahh Thadius, "The lady doth protest too much, methinks." -- Hamlet (III, ii, 239)

  23. ahh, smile, just reviewed this old thread, as it was listed as a most actively participated one.....thank you again guys/ bw


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