Reflection 46: Derailing Decency to Self

A reaction I sometimes hear to Radical Decency is that its prescription – decency to your self, others, and the world, at all times and in every context – is noble, but utopian and impractical.

The criticism is misguided. Why? Because it fails to take account of the philosophy’s full-throttled commitment to “decency to self.” When we seek to balance and integrate decency to self, with decency to others and the world, we are challenged to make choices in life that – far from being naïve – are a tough-minded, realistic and, crucially, sustainable.

In this Reflection I discuss decency to self – how it has been distorted by our engrained mainstream ways of thinking and how Radical Decency can vitalize the ways in which we tend to and love our self.


The importance of decency to self is grounded in our biology. We humans are wired to be in deep and intimate connection with one another. Our physical and emotional development and continued well-being depend upon it. But that is not the full story. Faced with perceived danger, our fight/flight brain shifts our attention, dramatically and decisively, to our own needs. Any approach to living that fails to take account of both of these biological realities – our fundamentally affiliative nature and our vital need for physical and emotional safety – is unrealistic and unsustainable.

This balanced approach is not, however, embraced in the mainstream culture. Instead, we are conditioned to view our selves and others through an illogical, all-or-nothing prism: Either we are selfish – or we are altruistic and caring. There is far too little currency for the view that we can – and should – be decent to others and the world and, at the same time, decent to our self.

This odd, biologically unnatural mindset grows directly out of the authoritarian ways of operating that dominate our world. In this model, there are two roles:

  • The dominant person – the boss, the traditional husband – who demands what he wants and projects his needs onto others; and
  • The subordinate person who tends to the dominant person’s needs.

So, for example, as the boss gets ready for the meeting, he barks at his assistant “where’s the file,” and the subordinate, internalizing the boss’s anxiety, scurries to find it.

This is, needless to say, a deeply flawed system. The dominant person’s attunement skills and ability to love and nurture atrophy. And the subordinate person’s ability to understand, assert and satisfy his needs correspondingly shrinks.

One of the special geniuses of the mainstream culture is its ability to generate cover stories that justify its preoccupation with a compete-and-win, dominate-and-control mindset. So, we celebrate the life-style of the people at the top of this authoritarian pyramid, conveniently overlooking the high emotional price paid by these purported “winners” in life. Indeed, the hallmarks of this way of life – the unbounded pursuit of money, power, and material goods and toys – have become the culture’s standard measures of decency to self.

On the flip side, the mainstream culture promotes an equally distorted version of decency to others. Implicitly glorifying the role of the subordinate person in this authoritarian structure, it relentlessly romanticizes the “ever nurturing, always there to serve others” mother/nurse/secretary who should, in fact, be more appropriately viewed as a victim of this highly exploitative system.


These twin distortions, deeply interwoven in their effects, are instrumental in short-circuiting the ability of all of us – whether we resist them or not – to be decent to our self.

Here’s how the process works.

Given the insistent pressures of the world in which we live, most people are simply seeking to get by as best they can. They do this by pursuing the culture’s prescribed path, including its limited and distorted view of what it means to be decent to your self. The all too typical by-product of this way of life is some combination of the spirit-sapping conditions that are endemic in our grasping, dog eat dog world: Self-judgment and doubt, anxiety, depression, anger and violence, addictive behaviors, failed relationships, etc.

Interestingly, while many people recognize the price they pay when they pursue this prescribed way of living, this insight seldom leads to a significant shift in outlook and approach. Why? Because the institutions that drive our culture and write our paychecks demand steady, nose to the grindstone production and penalize choices that noticeably diverge. Despite the cost, a decision to get off the treadmill in any meaningful way seems, for most, far too risky.

Reinforcing this choice is the fact that the only visible, alternative path – a service oriented life – is decidedly on the short end of the culture’s taken-for-granted either/or mindset, described earlier:

If you make the needs of others your focus, you’ll get less – and should expect to get less – both financially and, at an interpersonal level, where you’ll be expected to be a Florence Nightingale type who, in the words of the country and western song is, “always giving, never asking back.”

The idea that decency to self could be a co-equal concern for people who choose these service-oriented professions has little currency in the mainstream culture.

These considerations leave the typical mainstream person, leading a typical mainstream life, checkmated. The price he is required to pay in terms of decency to self, if he choses an alternative path, makes the decision to maintain his place in culture’s competitive win/lose game seem inevitable and unavoidable.

And, equally – when it comes to decency to self – people who choose an alternative path of service are similarly mouse trapped. Seduced and/or coerced into conformance with this self-sacrificing model, they wind up subordinating crucial needs to the needs of others.

In the end, everyone loses.


Radical Decency offers a way out.

It focuses on seven values – respect, understanding, empathy, acceptance, appreciation, fairness, and justice – and invites us to apply them on an across-the-board basis. Doing so, it replaces the distorted values of the mainstream culture with a clear and coherent alternative that, crucially, fully accounts for decency to self.

We humans are intensely creatures of habit. As we do something more and more, the likelihood that we will instinctually do the same thing, in the same way the next time, and the next, increases correspondingly. And one of the great virtues of Radical Decency is that it knowingly enlists this signature characteristic of our brains in the service of a better life. The philosophy’s central proposition is this: If our intent is to be decent at all times, in every context, and without exception, these values will over time become our new habits of living.

The really good news is that decency to self – like decency in every other area of living – will be energized by this sort of unwavering attention. We will continue to do what we have to do to maintain our economic viability – since this is an important aspect of decency to self. But, at the same time, our emerging self-decency habit of mind will guide us, more and more, toward choices that honor our broader physical, emotional, and spiritual needs – with the respect, understanding, and empathy upon which the philosophy insists.

Because we live in a world in which the mainstream culture’s “compete and win” values are so predominant, the art of being decent to our selves – like the art of being decent to others and the world – is a difficult, wisdom-stretching proposition, to say the least. Given this reality, we need to always remember:

  1. That embracing decency as a vital pathway toward decency to self requires a radical commitment to its 7 values; and, equally,
  2. That as difficult as this is, such a commitment will bring with it commensurate rewards; that, as explained in Reflection 13, Radical Decency is, truly, its own reward.

Reflection 45: Re-visioning Social Change Work

From my teenage years forward, I have been puzzling over this question: Is there an effective strategy for creating a more decent, just and equitable world that I can be a part of? Preoccupied with this issue I became a lawyer, acquiring – so I thought – the skills needed to effectively participate in such an effort.

In my 25 years as a attorney I was involved in many activities that seemed, at the time, to offer a workable answer to my “big” question: The civil rights movement, political campaigns, single issues advocacy, lawsuits, civic education, volunteer tutoring, domestic and overseas service trips. In the end, however, I felt deeply frustrated. The larger goal of an effective change strategy seemed forever out of reach. None of the activities in which I immersed myself seemed, in a final reckoning, to even remotely alter the indecent trajectory of our culture.

Asking myself why, I arrived at this answer: The tentacles of our system reach much more deeply than is commonly understood; thoroughly infecting the ways in which we think and feel; deeply limiting our ability to be in fruitful relationship with one another. Realizing that change efforts need to grapple with these psychological issues as well, I re-tooled as a psychotherapist – and began to develop Radical Decency as a more comprehensive and, hopefully, more effective strategy for change.


In this Reflection, I offer a critique of our mainstream approaches to change and discuss the ways in which Radical Decency can, potentially, alter them and magnify their impact. I make these arguments with considerable diffidence. The people who devote themselves to conventional change efforts are the best among us and their initiatives do so much good in the world.

But the deeper reality is this: In ways that are subtle, indirect, and chillingly effective, the system diverts and marginalizes reform energy. What happens is that change efforts are condoned and even encouraged – but only up to a point:

  • A new law is passed that moderates some of the system’s worst excesses but leaves its operative mechanisms unchecked.
  • A humanitarian initiative is funded that, while meaningful in its immediate impact, touches only a relative handful of lives.

The problem with this approach is that these visible, accessible but ultimately limited-in-scope projects capture the time and energy of many of the most reform-minded among us. And, consumed by these activities, these natural leaders of, and participants in, larger changes effort never take on the more radical initiatives that could, potentially, fundamentally alter the cultural landscape.

Here’s how the process works.

At a structural level, reform-oriented people are channeled into one of three tracks: “Change within the system” approaches – lawsuits, elections, lobbying for new laws; “service” approaches – tutoring children, work at a homeless shelter, tending to people’s physical and emotional ills; and “save the world” approaches – seeking an end to hunger, war, or disease.

Notice, first of all, how effectively this structure isolates and divides reform energy. One group lobbies for changes in the environmental laws, another organizes tutoring programs, and a third raises money to fight AIDS. But strikingly absent are meaningful efforts to coordinate these efforts, in an attempt to magnify their impact.

Moreover, each of these culturally condoned approaches, viewed individually, is inherently limited. Trying to pass laws or elect more enlightened leaders requires you to compete in a system that has been systematically structured to reward the very values you are trying to overthrow. Outgunned many times over, in terms of lawyers, lobbyists, and campaign contributions, can we reasonably expect these efforts to fundamentally alter our status quo ways of operating?

Service-oriented activities, for their part, are admittedly oriented toward individuals, and not systemic reform. And the idea that millions of individual acts of kindness will magically coalesce into an irresistible force for fundamental change is a comforting, but untenable, illusion. While social movements may sometimes originate in a spontaneous spark – felt by many – they can never take root and grow in the absence of self-conscious organizing and community building.

The self-limiting aspects of “save the world” efforts are subtler but not less real. We mere mortals may decide that ending hunger is an inspiring goal. But what exactly should do we do when we get to our desks? Who do we call? What letter do we write? Faced with the overwhelming enormity of the task, most of us quietly shelf our longing to make a difference and return to the more immediate task of getting by in life. In short, save the world initiatives, more often than not, are invitations to paralysis and avoidance and not to meaningful action.

Note moreover, that these efforts are almost always issue specific: Hunger, or disease, or illiteracy. So even if the “big” issue of choice could be solved – a doubtful outcome – its impact on the culture’s broad sweep of indecency would be tangential at best. Despite their ambitious (and worthy) goals, these “save the world” initiatives are similarly partial and incomplete.


In what ways can Radical Decency support us in escaping these deeply embedded structural impediments to change? By offering an expanded frame of reference that allows people, immersed in activities that now seem disparate and unconnected, to more fully understand the depth of their common interests and goals. Then, building on that understanding, supporting them to forge new, more creative collaborations that will, hopefully, broaden their respective missions and magnify their effects.

The key element, driving this shift, is Radical Decency’s comprehensive perspective.

Our current crisis is not about unjust laws, or rampant incivility, or an epidemic of depression and anxiety, or racism and sexism, or a failed education system. While all of these conditions exist, they are in fact the expectable consequences of a more fundamental malady: A system in which a wildly over emphasized set of values – compete and win, dominate and control – predominates and drives our choices in every area of living, from the most personal and intimate to the most public and political.

The answer, then, is to focus on these dreadfully consequential symptoms – of course – but to do so within the context of the larger value issues at the heart of our failed culture. In other words, fight for better schools or a reformed financial system if that is the issue that moves you. But do so in concert with others who are seeking reform in others areas, with the unifying goal being a progressive shift toward a society in which the new norm is Radical Decency: Decency to self, others, and the world – at all times, in every context, and without exception.

Doing so, “change within the system” types would, for example, notice the unique insights that “service” types have to offer when it comes to applying principles of decency at a more micro, interpersonal level; understanding that their macro, reform work is powerfully vitalized by these new understandings. Thus, their interest in this work – instead of being cursory and superficial, as is now more typically the case – would be intense, hands-on, and thoroughly integrated with other aspects of their mission.

And, needless to say, “service” types would be equally invested in absorbing and incorporating, into their work, the insights and strategies that “work within the system” and “save the world” types have crafted in their struggle to transform our politics.


How, then, might this expanded perspective change (for example) the specific strategies and approaches of a reform-minded, “work within the system” nonprofit?

An important starting place would, of course, be the more intense collaboration with “service” and “change the world” types just described.

In addition, its push for decency, justice and equity would not be directed outward only. Principles of Radical Decency would guide every aspect of its business operations as well, including wages and benefits, purchasing, money management, overall decision-making – even the way in which its meetings were run.

Radical Decency would also powerfully reshape its approach on substantive issues.

In the political arena, the prevailing view – seldom critically examined – is that manipulative, power oriented ways of operating need to be used, as well, by the advocates for greater equity and justice; that the only way to fight fire is with fire.

The problem with this “pick and chose” approach to decency is that it is far too slippery a slope. Adopting the mainstream culture’s business as usual political techniques, otherwise well-intentioned people become unwitting participants in – and, thus, perpetuators of – the very value system that lies of the root of the problems they are seeking to solve: The culture’s self aggrandizing, win at all costs mentality.

Guided by a larger vision of decency, however, these politics-as-usual tactics would be replaced by ways of operating – frequently pioneered by service types and psychotherapists – that, while appropriately aggressive, are honest, respectful, understanding, and empathic. And with this consistency – and clarity – of approach would also come an increased ability to challenge the deeper manifestations of indecency that drives our politics – and so inhibit the ability of our hypothetical “work within the system” nonprofit to realize its goals with respect to its issue of choice:

  • The obsession with winning;
  • The systematic buying and selling of public officials via campaign contributions, contracts, and jobs;
  • The breathtaking absence of meaningful dialogue;
  • A mainstream media that utterly fails to challenge the nonsense politicians spout “because it has to, to maintain access;”
  •  Our willingness to overlook and excuse the self-interested, indecent actions of our allies on “other” issues and in other areas of their life.

With Radical Decency as its reference point, the boundary between decent and indecent – while exquisitely difficult to navigate – would no longer be confused, shifting, and filled with convenient, easy way out exceptions. Either our hypothetical organization would strive to be decent to itself, others, and the world or – in its indifference to decency in one or more areas – it wouldn’t. And, modeling and advocating for this approach in all of its choices, it would be far better able to mount a coherent challenge to the mainstream culture’s pervasive and pernicious attitudes and practices.


Needless to say, this vision of social change would also include an analogous, expanded perspective on the part of “service” and “save the world” types as well.

Working from this expanded vision, all of us – including, importantly, people seeking to infuse their “non-activist” lives and mainstream workplaces with Radical Decency’s principles – would understand the self-evident importance of deeply immersing ourselves in, and supporting, the work of our comrades in arms. Hopefully, then, as our vision expands and our separate and varied initiatives coalesce into a unified, values-based movement, so too would our impact in the world.

Reflection 44: Intimate vs. Strategic Relationships

A gifted supervisor – when you can find one – is one of the great benefits of being a psychotherapist. I was lucky enough to find one in Carol Brockmon. One highly useful tool she introduced me to was the distinction between intimate and strategic relationships.

In this Reflection, I explain that distinction and elaborate on some of its more important implications.

Here is a typical interaction in a strategic relationship. Needing to make a key decision, a department head at a conventional, mainstream business convenes a two-hour staff meeting at 1 p.m. Being an enlightened leader, she encourages an open and vigorous exchange with each team member freely stating his or her beliefs. Now, it’s 2:59. The discussion ends and the department head makes her decision. Whether they fully agree or not, the rest of the staff is expected to fall in line.

Here, by contrast, is a typical intimate interaction. A husband and wife sit down at 1 p.m. to discuss where to send their son to school. Now it is 2:59, after a lot of back and forth, no agreement has been reached. What happens? A decision is deferred. The couple keeps talking.

The difference? In the first scenario, the priority is on achieving a goal – getting something done. In the second, the highest priority is on the relationship itself – on creating and maintaining an empathic, loving relationship.

Note, importantly, that these categories are not mutually exclusive. Strategic relationships work better when tools of intimacy are used. The department head could have simply sent a memo saying, this is what we’re going to do. But she understood that an open exchange of ideas, properly managed, improves the staff’s morale, its willingness to embrace the ultimate decision, and, more often than not, the overall quality of the decision as well.

Similarly, there are many strategic aspects to an intimate relationship. A decision about their son’s school has to be made. The couple can’t keep talking until November.

What makes this distinction so useful, however, is that it clarifies our confusion on both sides of the equation.


Discussions in which couples kill each other, arguing over what to do – in this situation or that – are endemic. Over and over in my practice, I remind couples that, 90% of the time, either choice is acceptable. A visit to mom or a day at the beach with the kids; how much cleaning is enough; how and when to pay the bills; the toilet seat up or down – there really aren’t any “right” and “wrong” decisions.

So, I repeatedly urge couples, put outcomes on the back burner. Remember that this is an intimate relationship and, for that reason, the far more important part of the discussion is not the subject itself but your emotional needs and those of your partner.

Viewed from this perspective, you should clean the dishes before leaving the kitchen, not because it’s the “right” thing to do but because you are stretching to love her in a way that is meaningful to her. Conversely, the reason for asking her to leave earlier for the airport has everything to do with your emotional comfort and nothing to do with good planning. After all, in all the years before she became your partner, she always managed to be in her seat when the plane took off.

When your priority is on the emotions that inform your intimate discussions, and not on outcomes, the results are dramatic. Focused on each partner’s needs and desires – yours and his – your empathy, patience, and skill at loving and being loved will grow and grow. At the same time, those seemingly inevitable, repetitive flare-ups will become less common and easier resolved.

And, guess what? Regardless of where you come out on the substantive issue – her solution, his, or a compromise – everyone will survive just fine.


On the strategic side of the equation, our confusions are just as great. What I notice, here, is the frequency with which we become wedded to emotional outcomes in situations that are plainly strategic.

The most obvious place where this occurs is at our mainstream places of business. Work could be a place where intimate relationships are the norm – a possibility I wrote about in Reflection, #43. Unfortunately, in our culture that is rarely the case. Hence that Reflection’s title: Radical Decency in Business: A Fairy Tale.

For this reason, the hypothetical that follows deals with what is – and not what could be.

Lou works in a small department and one of his co-workers – call him Fred – is harassing him. Fred refuses to provide Lou with information he needs to do his job, does everything he can to undercut Lou’s credibility with the boss, and even – deliberately, it seems – clutters their common work area with his files.

While important, Lou’s job is not his life’s priority. That would be his wife, kids, and private passions. And yet, he gets sucked into this unsolicited war, registering repeated complaints about Fred’s conduct, creating extensive written rebuttals, and obsessively plotting ways to “win” the battle for his boss’ good opinion by strategically pointing out – at staff meetings and endless water cooler conversations – why he is right and Fred is wrong.

The problem, of course, is that Lou – like so many of us – is unable to maintain emotional clarity about the context in which he is operating. At a typical work place, the priority is on getting things done and not on dealing with people’s feelings. But in seeking to win his battle with Fred, Lou is seeking an emotional outcome – an acknowledgment that is anger is justified and that he is held in high regard by his co-workers and boss. And in service of that goal, he deeply engaged at an emotional level.

Ideally, Lou would treat Fred’s behaviors as he would the acts of a stranger – unpleasant, unwanted but, ultimately, of no emotional significance. Maintaining that distance, he would no longer be caught up in responsive anger and anxiety about becoming an outcast in this work “family.” And with these uncomfortable and distracting emotions out of the picture, he could deal with Fred’s behaviors as a purely strategic challenge; crafting counter measures that, unencumbered by extraneous emotions, would more effectively neutralize the very real threat that Fred’s behaviors represent to his perceived value to the department and boss, and to his ability to do his job well.

Taking this approach is, needless to say, difficult. When we are attacked, our brain is wired to respond quickly, powerfully, and in kind. And once our fight or flight response is activated, it is exceedingly difficult to turn off. But to have mastery over our choices, we need to cultivate the ability to emotionally engage only in those situations where it is appropriate. And, while this is a difficult task, it is worth the effort. Ultimately, we will feel better and be to operate more effectively in difficult, strategic environments.

Note, importantly, that this tough-minded approach to strategic relationships in no way compromises Radical Decency. Prudent boundary setting, a cautious and measured approach to emotional disclosure in unsafe environments, and effective counter-measures are indispensable aspects of decency to self. But with across the board decency as our highest priority, we also need to remember that these self-protective choices are not an excuse to dispense with other attributes of decency – respect; understanding and empathy; acceptance and appreciation; fairness and justice – in dealing with the Freds of the world.

So while Lou should not ignore Fred’s conduct or “make nice” with him – in the name of these values – he should strive to be civil, even in the face of Fred’s provocations; to avoid the temptation to demonize him; and ideally, understand and even empathize with whatever emotional demons are driving Fred’s behaviors. His larger goal should be fair treatment all the way around – to himself and to Fred –– and not revenge.


There are, obviously, many relationships that have both intimate and strategic dimensions: The friendships that flower in work environments, the co-parenting relationships that many former spouses share; the very different sort of workplaces that Radical Decency envisions; and so on. Hopefully, however, focusing on the very different challenges, presented by these twin poles of relationship, will support us in making choices in all of our relationships that are more loving, appropriately self-protective – and radically decent.

Reflection 43: Radical Decency in Business: A Fairy Tale

Once upon a time . . .

A group of friends stumbled upon a smart iconoclastic writer, Daniel Quinn, who told this story. As a struggling author in the 1980s, he, his wife, and three colleagues started a newspaper in rural New Mexico. The paper was only modestly successful, but they persisted.

While making money was vitally important, they soon realized that their higher priority – the one that kept them going – was their pleasure in working together. Quinn labeled this a modern day tribe; a group of people bound together, not by physical proximity, but by a work environment in which they were able to thrive as people.

To the group of friends, Quinn made a lot of sense. Since work dominated the best hours of the great majority of their days – and so much of their energy – why not make it a primary place of sustenance? Instead of being an unfortunate exception to their most deeply held values – at the center of their lives – why couldn’t work be a place where, surrounded by people they liked, admired, and trusted, their lives found vital expression?

So they decided to go into business together. The type of business didn’t really matter. It could have been a computer company, a chiropractic office, a used car lot, a farm. What was important was this: Having spent years at typical mainstream places of business, they were determined to operate differently.

Here is what they decided to do. Because their economic future would depend upon it, profitability would be priority 1A, vitally important but clearly subordinate to their first priority, Radical Decency; decency to self, others and the world – at all times, in every context, and without exception.

Because some members of the group had been involved in similar projects in the past, they knew how easy it was to embrace Radical Decency in theory and how hard it is to apply it day by day, especially in the pressured packed environment of a business.

So in the beginning they went slowly – exploring the idea in detail, allowing the group to evolve organically. Eventually, a core group of people emerged that understood the approach to living, were eager to organize their work lives around it and, importantly, were willing and able to meaningfully contribute – each in their unique way – to the budding business’ profitability. In other words, all the initial participants had a clear and strong commitment to priority 1 – and to priority1A.

Getting the project off the ground was wrenchingly difficult. In addition to the typical problems a new business must face, the organizers had to figure out what it meant to actually run a business in a radically decent way.

From day one, big, obvious, wisdom stretching questions had to be answered.

  • Who “owns” the company and what rights are associated with ownership?
  • How do you allocate profits and risk of loss?
  • How to you price products when your decency commitment whole-heartedly extends to your customers (foreclosing mainstream business’ far simpler “whatever the market will bear” approach)?
  • What is fair compensation at every level?
  • How are decisions made in an environment where a collegiality is not just a hoped for result but it at the heart of the firm’s mission?
  • How do you fully honor the concept of decency to self – for every participant – without unduly compromising Priority 1A?

What also became apparent, early on, is that little things were vitally important. Virtually everyone involved had long experience working at “business as usual” companies. Mainstream habits of operating were what they knew and instinctually fell back upon at times of stress. And, on the flip side, no manuals were available for operating a radically decent business, to guide them and keep them on track.

It was all new, complicated, frustrating, and perplexing.

Given all of this, an ever present danger was that day-to-day business pressures would drag them back to mainstream ways of operating, one small compromise at a time: Toleration of a powerful employee’s entitled behavior here; a willingness to subtly manipulate an unsuspecting customer there; and so on. The best antidote? An intense, detailed, even obsessive attention to the company’s mission in all things, large and small.

So in the early days, a lot of time was spent figuring out what Radical Decency had to teach them about, well, just about everything: Running meetings; talking to each other – and to customers, vendors, and competitors; dealing with co-worker conflict; even procedures for keeping the lunch and bath rooms clean.

These seemingly endless conversations were a frequent source of frustration, since “important” work had to get done. But it was time well spent. As time past, their ability to more fully understand the implications of Radical Decency in business grew and grew and, with it, their sure footedness in putting it into practice. Like a hitter obsessively practicing an improved swing, new, more decent ways of operating eventually became their engrained, habitual ways of operating.

And as this process unfolded, good things started to happen at an accelerating pace.


It is not uncommon for a company to promote itself as a nice place to work, backing this promise up with pot sweetening benefits such as flex time or more generous maternity leave. But, at this company, decency and fairness were built into the very fabric of its personnel policies. Full disclosure of company finances; fair and transparent compensation at all levels; equitable sharing of sacrifice; open and collegial decision-making – all of these were standard operating procedures. The result: The company attracted an unusually capable, imaginative and loyal group of employees.

Word also began to get out to an expanding group of customers that, here, Radical Decency was more than just a marketing slogan. Fashioned to reflect its mission:

  • The quality of its products and services was exceptional, and none exceeded its ability to deliver;
  • Pricing was fair and transparent; and
  • Everyone doing business with the company was treated with unusual thoughtfulness and sensitivity.

The company’s approach didn’t appeal to everyone. Some potential customers only understood a dog eat dog approach. Others, not understanding its very different approach, thought the company was a soft touch; someone they could take advantage of. And a number of people lost interest when they learned that wasn’t the case. But many others, almost stunned to learn that business was actually being conducted in this way, became fiercely loyal customers – the company’s most reliable source for new business.


The company’s success also showed up in other, less quantifiable ways.

Because it nurtured a relaxed and open environment, where problems could be raised and worked though, employees almost never started the day with knots in their stomachs.

While everyone understood that performance over time was a must, they never allowed this unforgiving reality to morph into a “no mistakes tolerated” or “no sacrifice for the office is too much” atmosphere. Workers comfortably acknowledged times of lesser productivity – due to a marital crisis, or a physical or emotional issue – and reasonable allowances were made. The firm’s culture also allowed people to acknowledge mistakes and areas of weakness, even as its shared sense of mission inspired them to improve and strive for excellence.

In a similar way, while long hours were at times required, equal attention was paid to the other side of the equation. Everyone understood that everything isn’t a crisis. In less frenetic times, people felt free to attend a daughter’s Thursday afternoon soccer game or take an extra week few weeks for that once in a life time vacation – understanding that their a willingness to be fully available, when needed, was the thing what made this extraordinary flexibility possible.


Over time, the company also found its way to collaborators who not only got what they were doing but, in a growing number of cases, were eager to re-caste their own businesses into radically decent enterprises. And so, their company became a catalyst for an expanding network of radically decent businesses.

At a purely income generating level, this network was a big success. Because their relationships were based on a shared mission, and not just economic self-interest, referrals happened far more frequently. In addition, because of their philosophical compatibility, leads were turned into customers on a much more regular basis.

And as this network grew, its successes extended far beyond the vital but ultimately mundane world of customers, sales, and revenue. As tricky as decency to self and others can be, crafting ways to meaningfully contribute to a more decent world can be mind-meltingly complicated. But the possibilities for effective action expand exponentially when retail businesses, nonprofit service providers, real estate developers, hi-tech companies, colleges, and widget manufacturers are bound together by a full throttled commitment to Radical Decency. Before long:

  • Landlords were collaborating with mental health trauma specialists to offer respite housing to victims of abuse;
  • People with employment challenges were being placed at radically decent businesses by radically decent healers and career consultants;
  • Investors were funding new radically decent businesses as well as Radical Decency initiatives in politics; and,
  • Articles, books, courses, seminars and retreats were being offered to discuss lessons learned and to craft more strategic and effective ways to implement Radical Decency at all levels – from the most intimate and personal to the most public and political.


And the group of friends? Well, things evolved and changed. Some stayed at their widget company. Others, intrigued with other aspects of the expanding movement, moved on. But bound together by a common mission, they maintained a warm, intimate, and nourishing connection.

. . .   and they lived – ever after – with an ennobling purpose and energizing sense of possibility.