First and Second Order Effects
In the Rooms of AA, we often hear, “I was at the top of my amends list,” or “first we have to make amends to ourselves” and “I have to forgive myself first.”
These expressions bother me. With my obsession with self, preoccupation with my selfish needs and my self-centered attitudes, putting my name at the top of my amends or forgiveness lists seemed dangerous. That was an intuition. Intuitively I felt like putting my name first would pour gasoline on a fire. But when I wrote this blog, I did a bit of research and found that there is some science behind my intuition, which brings me to this note, the most technical note I have penned.
A first order effect is an immediate consequence of an action. And consequences have consequences. A second order effect is the consequence of the consequence of the first action. If you have a series of actions the second order effect of the first action alters the outcome of the second. And the second order effect of the second action alters the outcome of the third action. And so on…. Got it?
Now this is where it gets interesting. The order matters: if you have three proposed actions, and can choose the order, the order you choose matters. The consequence of each action is different and interacts with the next action in a complex manner. Choosing one action instead of another results in a different first, second order effect which impacts the second action differently and so on….
For example, treatments for depression can include meditation, exercise, and medication. If you change the sequence of these treatments, there are differences in the outcomes. In a large study, for one group mediation was the first treatment, followed by exercise and medication — 25% reported positive results, for a second group, exercise was the first treatment — 50% reported positive results, and for the third, medication was the first — 75% reported positive results.
This is an example of what is called Order Effect, the order of treatments or actions matters. Change the order of treatments or actions and you change the success of the outcome. And note, you will not necessarily create a failure in outcome, only a difference in the quality of the result of the three actions.
Now I understand my intuition. If I put my name first there is not a failure of the process, I achieve a 25% positive outcome. When I put others first on my list, I achieve a 75% positive outcome. Both outcomes are positive, but one is much better. That is the Order Effect in amend ranking in my experience with both amends and forgiveness.
Oddly the real magic is the greater success in forgiving myself and making amends to myself when I put others first. The 75% positive score for others applies to me as well. When I make amends to others and forgive others first, I find that I have a much more positive outcome in an enhanced feeling of rightness with myself. Making amends and forgiving others redounds on myself; in taking these actions with others there was an opposite and equal reaction upon myself.
My intuitive knowledge used to baffle me, but no more.