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Helping people in recovery build social capital

March 26, 2013
by Lori Ashcraft, PhD
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(Part 2 of 2)

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The Strengths Bank provides a framework for recognizing and building personal strengths and then learning how to use them. It emphasizes the importance of putting strengths into action and of testing their effectiveness. It helps people in recovery to build social capital — the currency that people value and trade in group or community settings. Here is an analogy using the commercial banking system, which illustrates the process of an individual learning how to bank their strengths and invest them in others:  

Creating and using an individual account.I get up one morning and decide it’s time to open an account at my local bank. I’m not sure what the process is, so I ask one of those important looking bankers sitting at the desks opposite the teller windows. The banker is friendly and invites me to sit down across the desk from him.

The banker begins by asking me about my assets (strengths). He hands me a form so I can list these assets and determine my (social/relational) net worth. I list my assets  on the form (including what I’m good at; what others like about me; what my accomplishments have been; what my skills are and what knowledge I’ve garnered from life lessons).

To arrive at my net worth, the banker shows me how to weigh these assets and strengths against my “liabilities,” the things that I need to work through and overcome. The banker also wants to know my potential for increasing my net worth, so I write down some other “potential” assets. These aren’t real assets yet. They are talents, abilities, dreams and interests that I could contribute to my community once I develop them further.

Now that we have a clear picture of my net worth, it’s time to set up my account so I can begin investing and spending my assets. By this, I mean using my strengths and abilities to build relationships, contribute to others, and get what I need from others in the community. So, I deposit my assets and get a debit card, with instructions that I can spend my assets anytime, anywhere. However, the banker suggests that I be very thoughtful about how I invest my assets. The key to gaining bigger returns, he says, is to invest in people who can support my recovery.

The banker also reminds me that there are two unique features about my Strengths Bank account:

1)  I’ve got to use my assets, or I’ll lose them. There’s no such thing, he says, as “saving” my assets by putting them away in the bank. If I just let assets “sit there,” the fees for not using them, not investing them, will rise steadily and drain my assets away. He says that the more I spend and invest my assets—the more times that I use my card — the more interest I’ll accrue and the better return I’ll get. So, the rule is to invest often — and wisely — in others and in my community.

2) Others can and will invest in me, too!  I’m really excited about this feature, but I’ve got a question for the banker:  “How is it that others can invest in me or make a deposit in my account?”  It’s pretty simple, he explains, noting that when I spend/invest my strengths into other people, they usually respond with gratitude. They often choose to invest in me through their acknowledgement, thanks, or appreciation for what I have done. “Wow,” I think. The more I invest my strengths in others, the more strengths they will invest in me. It’s a great way to get richer!  

Practice makes perfect: Using my account effectively

Now that I’m on the pathway to riches, though, I’m feeling a little bit nervous. Where do I begin? How do I make a “smart” or valuable investment?  And, what happens if I invest in someone but nothing really happens? Am I back at “square one?”

What I need is a “safe” place to practice investing before I venture out into the broader world, a place where it’s OK to experiment, to see what works for me, and to get the hang of this. According to the banker, I need to invest in people who can support my recovery. So, I think that he is talking about investing in my family, my group, or those closest to me. They are the people that have always given the most to me, so they’ll probably be happy to see me wanting to develop my strengths so that I can give something back to them.

But I’m not sure that I can explain all of this to them. So, I ask everyone to come to the bank with me, so the banker can help us create a group account. We all sit down with the banker, who begins by asking each of us to think about our individual assets. Then, we fill out an individual asset form, just as before.

After we finish calculating our social/relational net worth as individuals, the banker asks that we read them to each other. Then, he asks the group whether each individual has strengths that he or she had not realized or had forgotten to list. There is a terrific response—all sorts of things that each individual had never even considered—things that others see in them that they cannot see themselves.

Then, the group considers how, by working together, we could help each other develop our real and potential assets more quickly. The goal, of course, is to rapidly develop additional strengths and assets that we can spend and invest not only within our group but, in time, with those outside the group as well.

As we come to know each other’s strengths, we come to rely on each other more, knowing that each of us can contribute something that’s valuable and important to others. If there’s something that I dislike or don’t do very well, I discover that someone else is good at that task. So, we agree to swap—strength for strength. And, we both appreciate it.

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