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Scientific Service, Service in Sobriety.

16 May 2012

I just finished my review of a paper for the Canadian Medical Association Journal. It was a fun paper to read, high quality, and will be of value to the systems-engineering-in-medicine community. I can’t discuss its content, obviously, but I can say that it was a pleasure to read and review a good piece of work, and to recommend publication of a well-designed piece of engineering conducted with care and precision. Good science all around.

It’s exciting to be helpful in this way. Academics who publish papers all get asked to review papers as well. There’s no remuneration. It’s a service to the community. There are a lot of problems with the peer-review process which I have no intention of getting into today. But I’ll freely state that I enjoy being a part of it, which I know is not necessarily how everyone feels about it. But I think most academics appreciate the opportunity to influence their field in this way.

In part, one of the reasons I like to perform this service is that there’s a lot of bad engineering done with regard to systems in medicine. The problem is that a lot of it is done by MDs, who are almost uniformly bright people, but who are not known for understanding their limitations. There are a huge number of articles in my field which are plainly the result of a couple of physicians playing around with a neat tool they don’t really understand, and then reporting the results as if they did. So, when I review, I make sure to point out what was done well, what was done badly, and how to improve the paper. This way, I’m not just recommending rejections of bad papers, but hopefully informing both physicians and editors about what makes a paper in my field a good one.

I also volunteered recently to serve on a Scientific Merit Review Board, to review grant applications. I have specialized knowledge that is not likely to be needed (not many people are submitting grants that require a reviewer like me), but if there is one, hopefully I can serve in a way that will improve the quality of funded work. These little acts of service are important to me. They allow me to contribute to the field in a way which is meaningful, and appropriately anonymous. I don’t sign my reviews (no one does, that I know of), so I receive no credit for doing it well. I am doing it for one reason only: it makes me feel good to help (OK, I’m hopeful that raising the bar for my field will put my services in higher demand too.. but that’s a really indirect goal.).

Service in sobriety is of a slightly different character. When I talk to new people, or contribute to my local sober club, or write a recommendation for a young sober person for school or a scholarship, I am doing something for them, yes. But mostly, I’m doing something for me. I’m returning something from me to the sober community that has given me so much, and which sustains me. I’m helping to ensure that this community will be available to me when I need it, as I surely will.

I spent a lot of yesterday angry. I’m not entirely sure why. Yeah, I got annoyed about more online nonsense that’s not actually important. Yeah, it’s frustrating to not know how to revise this grant the best way. Yeah, I was tired. Fundamentally, I think I was just in a bad mood. It happens. But I know that tonight, when I go to my men’s meeting, if there’s something still lingering, I’ll be able to vent it there. I’ll be able to talk about my fears and concerns and anxieties and there are people there who will listen. Like I will for anyone else.

Service to AA (By which I do not mean general service councils or convention planning or anything, I don’t give a shit about all that.) is about doing my part to make sure that my sobriety is in good shape. My sobriety is dependant upon a healthy sober community, a close connection with other sober drunks, a network that I can rely upon to aid me, and a the knowledge that I am accountable to that same network. Because I need to be available to others in the program when they call on me.

And I had better well be sober, willing, and well-grounded when that happens. Just like the people who shepherded me through the doors. Because I’m grumpy and irritated today. But that’s ok. Feelings are feelings. I’m still here. I’m still doing things for other people, personally and professionally. Because even though I love personal accolades – and I do! – I derive a great deal more self-esteem from who I can help.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 16 May 2012 13:47

    The notion of service is especially uplifting for me today. I’m realizing that, for me, it’s tightly coupled to gratitude.

    Many years ago, I remember reading that in Catholicism despair is considered a sin (and a grave one, I think…I’m not Catholic). It struck me as an odd idea. The logic, as I remember it, is that despair is a willful rejection of the gifts given to a person by god, therefore elevating the person above god. I see the logic and wisdom in this without any need to confront any of the precepts of sin, or god, or organized religion, or anything else. I can embrace the idea of despair as an act of volition, and that notion changes everything.

    Having had some days of feeling not very useful, there is something very powerfully good in the idea that the right action is to take stock of the gifts that have been given to me (by whomever, or whatever) and accept the responsibility that if I’m not passing on what I can to someone else, I’m not shouldering my part of the load of being a good human in the world. And that seems good enough.

    Thanks for the assist in helping me to connect those dots.

  2. furtheron permalink
    17 May 2012 05:33

    I went to one of my home groups last night – there’d been some miscommunication about something I turned up expect A but B was happening. I was annoyed but in the end B was far better for me anyway! I don’t know what is good for me… etc.!

    Anyway I’m GSR (rep on our local intergroup) for that group. But more importantly I helped put out the literature (lit sec was running late) I helped clear the cups and tidy up etc. I asked a newcomer how they found the meeting – I gave a hug to a returning relapser and said again “If you want call me”… that in the end is far better service than the intergroup

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