Reflection 55: Being Decent To A Hitler

In this Reflection, I focus on the more practical side of Radical Decency, working with an example that is regularly raised by readers: How to react to a public person who you are deeply at odds with, in a world in which demonization of political adversaries –Ted Cruz (for liberals), Barak Obama (for conservatives),Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein – is endemic.

In the analysis that follows I discuss how a person, seeking to be radically decent, might constructively engage with a political leader who, in that person’s sincere but subjective opinion, is dangerous and unscrupulous. In other words, how do you engage with a “Hitler” in a more decent way?


A key to dealing with this issue is to remember – always – that Radical Decency makes decency to self every bit as important as decency to others and the world. Putting this perspective into practice is not as easy as it may seem, however. Why? Because the mainstream culture cultivates an either/or outlook: Either we are selfish, self-absorbed competitors, intent on getting ahead; or, we are selfless nurturers who, in the words of the country and western anthem are “always giving, never asking back.”

Since Radical Decency is clearly not a selfish approach to living, there is a tendency to stereotype it as a selfless philosophy that over-focuses on how we treat others. But, as its emphasis on decency to self makes clear, this assumption fundamentally distorts its purposes.

Making decency to self a co-equal priority leads to interesting and helpful shifts in our outlook and choices. It reminds us to be respectful, understanding, and empathic not only in our dealings with others, but also in how we handle the often-discordant voices inside our head. And, importantly, it brings into focus two key, threshold questions that are all too easy to overlook in our dealings with others: How much intimacy do we want to have with this person? What kind of boundaries do we want to set?

Why are these questions so important? Because, lacking clarity on these issues, one person in a relationship may well expect more than the other person is willing to give. This, in turn, is a recipe for misunderstanding, hurt, disappointment, and, as tensions rise, reactive fight or flight behaviors that make respect, understanding, and empathy impossible.

When it comes to our politics, here is how this process works: Failing to attend to these threshold intimacy and boundary issues, our implicit assumption – understandable but untenable, given our engrained political culture – is that we should be able to rely on our leaders to be wise, fair, and just. Then, when politicians on the other side disappoint this expectation, our fight or flight mindsets are powerfully triggered and, with that, we instinctually move into anger and demonization.


With these orienting thoughts in mind, how should we deal with a Hitler? The starting place is to be clear, from the outset, that we have no interest in a relationship that is frank, open and, thus, intimate. Instead, our initial focus should be on strategic choices; choices that keep us emotionally and physically safe. See Reflection 44, Intimate vs. Strategic Relationships. Then, with this understanding in place, we should strive to balance self- care with two other key goals, inherent in Radical Decency: (1) Our responsibility to resist injustice; and (2) to be respectful, understanding and empathic to others – all others.

Pursuing these multiple objectives is not easy. Many of us, fearing retaliation, choose instead to abandon the two key goals, just identified, retreating as unobtrusively as possible, into our private/nonpolitical pre-occupations. Others accept their responsibility to resist injustice but make no effort to be respectful, understanding and empathic.

The first of these two reactions is a retreat from the principles of Radical Decency, pure and simple.

The second is more complicated and presents a more interesting dilemma. A “fight fire, with fire” reaction to injustice is fueled by two emotions. The first is anger: Do you really expect me to be decent to “him,” after all that has done? The other is a fear that, striving to remain decent, we will wind up condoning and enabling this person’s conduct, with the result being that we will be rolled in the knife fight that is the reality of politics.

While the risk of “going soft” is real, allowing it to control our choices is a classic example of missing the forest for the trees. We cannot and should not tolerate murderous dictators. But the root problem is not the Hitlers, Saddams, and Gaddafis that regularly turn up in our world. It is, instead, our mainstream values – compete and win, dominate and control – that, pursued to their logical extreme, spawn one ruthless dictator after another.

When this reality is factored into our thinking, the hard truth is this: Giving ourselves license to demonize the politicians we oppose, and to use any means necessary to fight them, we are unwittingly adopting and perpetuating the very values that allowed them to come to power in the first place.

The more productive approach is to model the change we seek. We should persist in efforts to understand the other – even a Hitler – on his terms, knowing that his worldview has an internal logic that makes sense to him. We should also seek to understand – and even empathize – with the fears and vulnerabilities that have driven him to such perverse attitudes and behaviors.

So when you see “that person” on television, lean forcefully against the temptation to sputter in anger, call him names, and change the channel. Instead push yourself to understand who this person is and why he is saying the things he is saying. Then craft a response that is not a reactive “f__ you” to this “idiot” but is, instead, thoughtful and strategic. Finally, and very importantly, show up and speak up: Offer your more decent ideas and outlook.


One particularly thorny problem that repeatedly comes up, in this context, is how to respond when you are drawn into a substantive debate with a person from “the other side.” The more productive approach, as I see it, is to parse out the real arguments – which deserve to be addressed – from the ones that are obviously partisan and sophistic; a process made surprisingly easy by our politicians’ utter lack of subtlety or restraint in presenting their bogus arguments. Then, instead of engaging in the fruitless exercise of responding to their politicized argument, seek to expose their inauthenticity.

In the 1980s, I experienced the power of this approach when Elie Weisel, presenting his arguments in an issue of the day, was greeted with a highly personal attack on his character. His response: “Shame on you, there are important things to say on your side of the argument and your response dishonors them.”


Another point I want to emphasize is that a radically decent approach to a political adversary does not exclude extreme measures. The first principle of decency to self is to maintain physical safety. So if the choice is to kill or be killed, by a person intent on doing you in, killing is appropriate. Hitler needed to die. But such extreme choices are unusual and we need to remain vigilant lest a principle that is applicable in extreme situations is expanded to condone killing or other forms of domination and control in less extreme contexts.


Cultivating this balanced approach when faced with the extreme provocation of a Hitler is, of course, extremely difficult. But we need to remember that, with each exception we make to the principles of Radical Decency, we are walking down the road toward “pick and chose decency;” the self serving version of decency that is the mainstream culture’s convenient cover for its avaricious, exploitative ways.

The good news is that inspiring historical precedents demonstrate the power of this balanced approach. One need only look at the lives and choices of Gandhi, Mandela, Martin Luther King, and Jesus to understand that you can be forceful, audacious, heroic, effective and – at the same time – respectful, understanding, and empathic in a social/political context.

We also need to remember that the alternative, “fight fire with fire” approach is a self-defeating proposition. We are unlikely to defeat a dictator at his own brutally murderous game. And if we do – as occasionally happens when corruption saps his vitality or fortuitous events conspire against him – the people who succeed him are usually primed to use these same authoritarian methods. Why? Because these tactics were, in case after case, the very tools that allowed these “reform minded” leaders to rise to the top of the political system.


Any challenge to entrenched power is a long shot and the discouraging truth is that most of us, if we engage in this struggle at all, genuflect (figuratively or literally) before the inspiring leaders of the past and, then, revert to the self-defeating “fight fire, with fire” tactics, described above. Hopefully, the clarity of vision and concrete strategies that Radical Decency offer will allow us to avoid this trap and enable us to become more effective contributors to the struggle against oppressive leaders.

Reflection 54: Being Radical — Three Key Points

As a proponent of Radical Decency, I am suggesting two things: (1) Make decency a priority in your life; and (2) apply it radically.

In another Reflection, I break “decency” down into a detailed set of attitudes and behaviors, the intent being to offer a concrete roadmap to support us in making day-by-day choices that are more decent. See Reflection #17, Decency Defined. In this Reflection, I deal with the “radical” side of the equation.

Viewed in isolation, Radical Decency’s component pieces are unexceptional. Be Respectful? Understanding? Empathic? Appreciative? Accepting? Fair? Just? Ask any person – even someone who is thoroughly invested in the mainstream culture’s competitive, win/lose mindsets – and he’s likely to say, “sure, no problem, all of these things are good.”

His response, however, is far more typically code for this: I will happily be understanding and empathic but only when it doesn’t interfere with my headlong pursuit of money and power. I will honor the idea of fairness and justice, but only when it requires no meaningful sacrifice on my part.

With these unspoken caveats, he is in fact expressing a deeply engrained mainstream approach to living that I call pick and chose decency: Be respectful, fair, just and so on when you can. But when it really counts “do what needs to be done.”

This approach is, of course, not decent at all.

Radical Decency is interesting and different, not because it promotes these values, but because it kneads them into a coherent, integrated whole and, then, applies them – not partially and when convenient – but at all times, in every context, and without exception. In other words, the philosophy’s transformative potential lies in its radical application.

In the discussion that follows, I elaborate on three elements that, as I see it, are indispensable to this radical approach.

  1. Make a positive, forward-looking vision your central focus. Don’t define yourself in reaction to others.

This principle is central to Radical Decency and a cornerstone of its radicalism. Taking this position puts me at odds – I know – with the dictum of Saul Alinsky, the legendary radical organizer who argues that successful organizing requires a designated enemy around which to coalesce, a model that has been integral to so many of recent history’s more visible radical movements: Labor’s struggles against management; the civil right’s movement of the late 1950s and early 1960s vs. the deep South’s belligerent racism; Reagan and the tea partiers vs. the Federal government, and so on.

For me, the disqualifying aspect of Alinsky’s “us vs. them” approach is that it fails to come to grips with the authoritarian, win/lose mindsets that permeate our culture and are at the root of its endemic indecency.

Here’s the problem.

The unspoken assumption in this approach is that, because “we” are good and right – and “they” are bad and wrong – what needs to be done, once we win, will be the easy part. Our self-evident goodness and rightness will point the way. With this mindset firmly in place, most radical movements spend remarkably little time on what is, in the end, the really crucial question: What are the concrete, day by day steps we would need to take to make things better, given the opportunity?

Unfortunately, the issues any truly radical movement takes on are, almost inevitably, complex and intractable. So, in the all too typical case, the leaders of successful radical movements – steeped in their self-righteous mindset, and glib take on “what do we do, once we win” – are utterly lacking in the skills needed to implement their visionary goals.

To the contrary, after years of struggle, what they have been thoroughly schooled in, know best – and have succeeded in – are the authoritarian, win/lose ways that were the hallmark of the status quo forces they worked so hard to overthrow. Thus, it is no surprise that, once in power, they wind up replicating the indecent ways of the people they supplanted; a lesson graphically illustrated by the fate of so many of history’s best known radical movements – the French and Russian Revolutions, Mao-ism, and so on.

Radical Decency seeks to avoid this trap. It starts, it is true, with an in depth analysis of the mainstream culture’s dysfunctional ways of operating. But the goal is not to identify, demonize, and defeat an enemy.

Instead, it seeks to understand the ways in which the mainstream culture neutralizes radical reform efforts so that it can put processes in place that avoid these pitfalls. Then, with these safe-guards in place, it focuses on the positive, forward looking agenda that defines Radical Decency: To understand what decency looks like, and to craft strategies that will allow us to implement it more effectively in all areas of living.

Radical Decency works to make “cure” – the tricky business of charting a different, more productive course – the touchstone of the philosophy; seeking to avoid the trap of offering one more robust rant against “what is” with far too little discussion of what can be done. True to that perspective, the balance of this Reflection deals with ways in which we can more effectively chart a solutions oriented “radical” course.

  1. Be strategic.

In our laissez faire, “do your own thing” culture the importance of a strategic outlook receives remarkably little attention. Here, once again, the culture’s taken for granted attitudes work beautifully – if you are looking for an approach that keeps us rooted in the status quo.

Prevailing attitudes about charitable giving offer an excellent example. People are urged to give. But strikingly absent is any societal pressure to make that giving strategic. Instead, we are effusively congratulated for any contribution, of any size, never mind that it might represent an infinitesimal fraction of our net worth and income. And a gift to a college with a multi-billion endowment is, in the mainstream view, just as commendable as a gift to an organization that is working with the neediest among us.

To be truly radical, we need to continually examine and re-examine our priorities. This process is incredibly complicated and often uncomfortable. How do you allocate your time, talent, and financial resources – day-by-day – between your family, your immediate communities, the larger world, and your own needs? Like so many other aspects of the philosophy, there are no easy answers. But as we willingly engage in this wisdom-stretching enterprise, we will more fully make good on the goal of creating a decency practice we can legitimately call radical.

One final thought on being strategic: We need to pay special attention to ways in which we can collaborate and integrate our efforts with others. Because the slope we need to climb as we seek to create a more decent life and world is so steep, we can’t take the easy, more comfortable route of pursuing our special passions only; offering little or no support to other vitally important initiatives.

  1. Be fully committed; “all in.”

Joseph Stalin was a mass murderer, responsible for the death of 60 million people. Jesus, an exemplary person, has been an inspiration to countless millions. But they were both radicals – and in one respect their message was identical.

When a wealthy man asked Jesus what he needed do to get eternal life, His response was: Give your possessions to the poor and follow me. Similarly, after the collapse of the 1905 revolution, when so many of his compatriots got married and found jobs, Stalin railed in frustration: “You cannot be a householder and a revolutionary.”

Being “all in” is a tough discipline as the Bible recognizes when it reports that the rich man went away sad. But Jesus and Stalin were right. If you conclude that fundamental change is needed you cannot commit yourself to the process halfway. You have to be willing to risk all: As Jesus did when he entered Jerusalem with his radical, anti-establishment message; and as Lenin and Stalin did in their years of beleaguered organizing and, at the decisive moment, when they stormed the Winter Palace.

Doing so in the context of Radical Decency presents special challenges. Unlike so many other radical movements, it is not exclusive or rejectionist. Instead, it counsels us to find ways of living in the world as it is – an essential aspect of decency to self – while, at the same time, actively making choices that foster greater decency in our immediate environments and in the world. Given this approach, the philosophy usually unfolds quietly, in the privacy of our day-by-day, moment-by-moment choices.

This means that many of the choices that truly put us “all in” will be invisible to everyone except us. It also makes it easy to fake it, since there is nothing to stop us from doing the easier stuff even as we quietly neglect the necessary but more uncomfortable decency choices.

The bottom line in all of this? Being fully committed – being “all in” – requires a lot of discipline and self -accountability. As with so many other aspects of the philosophy, its demands are enormously challenging – worth pursuing only because the potential rewards are commensurate with the demands.

Reflection 53: Effective Fighting: Practice Pointers for Couples

When my wife and I started couples therapy in the mid 1990s, after 10 years of marriage and almost 50 years of living, our gifted therapist, Sunny Shulkin, described the way most couples fight. She speaks and he listens – but in a special way – carefully sifting her words for ammunition so that, when her mouth stops moving, he can fire back. And as he counter-attacks, she, in turn, is busy collecting her own ammunition so that, when he stops talking, she can return the fire.

The description was sobering, uncomfortably accurate. Over and over, Dale (my wife) and I would take turns explaining why we were right and the other wrong, with our frustration and vehemence increasing with each exchange. The predictable endpoint?

A complete breakdown in communication and mutual misery, followed by reconciliation – not resolution – and, in due course, a repeat performance.

And the years slipped by.

Why was Sunny able to describe the process of this new couple, sitting in front of her, with such eerie accuracy? Because we live in a culture where the relentless message is that successful people are winners; competitors who strive and, ultimately, prevail. With these values permeating our approach at school, work, and so many other areas of living, their habitual appearance in our intimate relationships is utterly predictable.

It is all so sad. We know to a certainty that the great majority of our teenagers will organize their lives around a committed intimate relationship. Nevertheless, there is virtually no effort to teach them alternative skills that would allow them to be more effective romantic partners.

But a better way does exist. And for Dale and me, one of our great joys is to share what we have learned, with others, in our therapy practices. In this Reflection, I offer some guidelines for effective fighting that we have teased out, in our work with couples – and with each other.


Radical Decency is an approach to living that encompasses all areas of living, from the most private and personal to the most public and political. And, needless to say, the same attack/counter-attack habits that couples engage in are practiced with a vengeance in the public arena – with devastating consequences.

In this area, however, the shift to more effective fighting is far more difficult since key qualities that can jumpstart the process for couples – good faith, trust, and a shared desire for a better way – are in short supply. That said, one of Radical Decency’s central beliefs is that application of its values in one area will lead to creative insights in other areas as well. For that reason, I invite you consider how the practice pointers for couples, described below, might be adapted and applied to our efforts to create a more decent and constructive public discourse.

Point 1: You’re not fighting about what you’re fighting about.

Couples bicker about chores – how to handle the children – love-making – money, the list goes on and on. But when a couple shifts to fight mode, the struggle is – almost always – about one thing: Each partner feels unheard and unseen and, with that, fears the loss of the safe, nurturing love that he or she longs for, and depends upon, from the other.

For those of us who instinctually default to the fight side of the fight/flight dichotomy, the typical fear is that the most important person in our life will abandon us. For those on the flight side, the fear is of being overwhelmed and engulfed by that person and his needs.

Because the substantive issue at hand has triggered your partner, it needs to be treated with respect. But don’t dwell on it. Make your point about how dinner chores should be handled, listen to his, and then shift your attention to the real issue: The ways in which you and your partner are not feeling loved and appreciated.

Remind yourself that, notwithstanding her harsh words, you are not at imminent risk of losing her good opinion of you. You are, after all, the love of her life. Instead of trying to prove your worth by “winning” the argument, look for ways to reassure her of your abiding love and respect – by making her feel that her point is really being heard by you.

Note, importantly, that the practical cost in adopting this approach is actually very small. In most cases, the outcome on the substantive issue is of no consequence. Her way of doing it is fine and, so too, is his. Either way, no babies are dying.

The bottom line: Focus your primary energy on your partner’s emotional needs and longings – and yours – and not on the intricacies of how and when to do the laundry.

Point 2: Winning is not the goal.

When your partner yells, or goes cold and judgmental, he has not turned into an unfeeling monster. Despite appearances, he feels lousy and is at his most vulnerable and unsafe. Just like you. Understanding this, it makes no sense to inflict additional pain through a counter-attack, especially since the point you are about make, with such urgency, is almost always a point you’ve made many times before, in past fights.

Not falling into this habitual, reactive way of responding – in the middle of a fight – is excruciatingly difficult. But it is the holy grail of effective fighting: To replace our instinctual fight/flight reactions with loving acts and, equally, to be receptive to our partner’s efforts to do the same.

When emotions escalate, job one is to tend to our physical and emotional safety and integrity. But consistent with that priority, there are many moments, even in the middle of a fight, when loving acts are possible.

Seek to understand and empathize with your partner and, importantly, share these efforts with her in ways that she is able to hear. Let her know, as best you can, that you know what it feels like to be her. Equally, important, strive to warmly accept loving initiatives from her side, even when they are tinged with a residue of anger and resentment. And resist, with all the discipline and presence of mind you can muster, the urge to get in the last shot.

Point 3: Don’t defend yourself.

When a fight starts, one of the first casualties is context. Despite her harsh words and cold looks, you are not an awful person. In fact, you are the most important person in her life; the person she has chosen to grow old with; the person she has stayed with for all these years; the person she trusts with her life – and the lives of her children.

Remembering this, defending yourself is really beside the point; a non-issue. Notwithstanding his momentary annoyance about the clutter you have created in the spare bedroom, you are, and remain, someone he loves and esteems. So, instead of justifying the clutter, acknowledge it and look at the cleanup, not as an annoying chore – or an admission of guilt – but as a ready-made opportunity to love him.

Point 4: Time is on your side.

When we are in the middle of a fight, we too easily think that everything has to be said – NOW. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, we have all the time in the world; with any luck, decades.

With this thought in mind, keep the conversation simple and stay focused on the issue at hand. If she complains about your getting home late for dinner, don’t respond by pointing out that she is chronically late when you have plans with another couple. That is changing the subject, pure and simple. She wants to talk about dinner and, ignoring that, you have shifted to a second topic.

This is where the realization that time is on our side is so helpful. Your annoyance about the routine on Saturday night is real and needs to be dealt with. But it’s best to raise it at another time – tomorrow or next week. Why? Because the alternative doesn’t work. When you change the subject and link issues, your partner – feeling unheard – is likely to do the same. This, in turn, will invite further linking by you, and so on, in an escalating, difficult to interrupt cycle.

When you and your partner fight, the goal should be to do less and to do it well. Then, stop and acknowledge your success, knowing that the tools you have used in this “good” fight, today, will help you to deal more effectively with the next issue – tomorrow, or next week, or next month.

Point 5: Scan for the positive.

What gives the guideline, first offered by Terence Real, its power is a simple, underlying truth: Your partner makes sense. Given his experiences, skills, disposition, hopes and dreams, this is how the magnificent person you have chosen as your partner operates in the world. And she is a package deal. The stuff you love and the stuff that drives you crazy are inextricably intertwined.

So when, in the middle of a fight, your partner takes his best shot, “scan for the positive” – for what you agree with – and begin your response there. Let the part where she calls you insensitive and thoughtless slide by, without comment, and agree with her that you did indeed fail to clean the kitchen before the guests arrived.

Doing so will remind you that she make sense; that her needs are real and legitimate. It will also act as a powerful brake on your instinctual, fight/flight driven rush toward defensiveness and reactive counter-attack. And, finally, it will invite her to join you in this shift toward reciprocal acts of understanding and love that are the hallmark of more effective fighting.

Point 6: Measure yourself by your successes and not by your failures.

I close with this thought. Being a good romantic partner, always difficult, is never more challenging than when you are in the middle of a fight. As hard as you try, there will, inevitably, be many moments when you fall short. So always remember to measure your progress by your successes and not by your failures.

Reflection 52: Marketing Radical Decency

Radical Decency is an action and process oriented approach to living. It is not based on an a priori set of beliefs about the nature of reality. Instead, it is grounded in our biological limitations and potentialities and, then, works with these empirical truths to offer behavioral guidelines that cultivate better lives and meaningfully contribute to a better world.

These guidelines – respect; understanding and empathy; acceptance and appreciation; fairness and justice – are the meat and potatoes of Radical Decency. Equally important, however, are the means by which they are implemented. To achieve the philosophy’s ambitious goals, substance and process – means and ends – need to be in harmony.

Adopting this approach, Radical Decency rejects the idea – condoned and widely adopted in the mainstream culture – that a worthy goal gives us permission to temporize on the means employed to attain it. Radical Decency views with deep suspicion the politician or social reformer who claims that he is (1) “playing the game” to (2) get power, so that once in power, he can (3) reform the system. Why? Because it doesn’t work: Part (3) never seems to happen.

Indeed, the deeper truth is that this “ends justifies the means” approach is a key way in which the efforts of well-intentioned people are domesticated and marginalized. In their zeal to be effective – to be big, to have a perceptible impact in the world – they are seduced into ways of operating that reflect the culture’s predominant values. In the end, they wind up perpetuating the very system they seek to reform.

With these premises in mind, I have puzzled, for many years, over this question: How can we maintain Radical Decency as an unyielding, uncompromisable priority and, at the same time, effectively present it – market it – to others.

Here are my thoughts.


The predominant culture has evolved a myriad of mechanisms –subtle, indirect, and devastatingly effective – for corroding and neutralizing change efforts. Thus, it is no surprise that it offers a ready answer to my question: To be successful, Radical Decency needs to be effectively marketed and sold, just like any other product in the marketplace of ideas.

When I first started working with Radical Decency, I instinctually accepted this approach as the “smart” thing to do. If I wanted to succeed, how could I do otherwise?

Over the years, however, I have come to realize that this approach fundamentally conflicts with Radical Decency’s core principles, emasculating in the process both the message and the movement we hope to nurture around it.

The proponents of this approach tend to be business-smart people; a group that I very much identify with, given my many years as an attorney and mainstream political activist. Drawing on their experience, and success, in the mainstream world, they instinctually push marketing initiatives that people like themselves, with money and real world smarts, find familiar and comfortable.

Steeped in these approaches, their messages are carefully crafted to avoid any buzzwords that might be off-putting to mainstream audiences. In the process, however, they soft-pedal the philosophy’s more visionary and radical ideas and, to the extent possible, make them sound like good, smart business. And because these are “mere marketing strategies” designed to “sell the product,” they seldom see them as posing any risk to the philosophy’s core message.

The fundamental problem with this approach? It vastly underestimates the depth of our immersion in the mainstream culture’s habits of thought and action.

Rising above these entrenched ways of being is a daunting task, even when all of our energy is focused on that goal. And when, in this context, our marketing strategies adopt the mainstream culture’s language and tone, and continually seek to rationalize Radical Decency based on that culture’s “compete and win” premises, the all too predictable result is dilution, confusion and diminishment of the philosophy’s transformative message and purposes.

A second, more practical – but equally fatal – flaw with this approach is that, in its pursuit, conventionally minded people are invited to become key players in our radically decent enterprises. The problem here is that the mainstream smarts, that makes these people attractive collaborators, also makes them instinctually biased toward status quo ways of operating. And as they become more and more influential in the movement, there is an ever-increasing risk that their mainstream outlooks and tactics will supplant Radical Decency’s more radical vision.

In the end, the inconvenient truth is that conventional marketing strategies are fundamentally inconsistent with the philosophy’s principles. Their goal – to mold the message to meet the target audience’s expectations – embraces a manipulative approach that is deeply at odds with the philosophy’s goal of fostering mutual and authentic contact in every interaction and area of living. Their pre-occupation with winning the competition for money, members, and influence – by whatever means necessary– is, in truth, a return to the very values Radical Decency seeks to supplant.


So what would a radical decent marketing strategy look like?

It would, to be sure, take full advantage of the many creative technologies that would allow our ideas and programs to reach to a wider audience. And it would strive to present Radical Decency as the exciting, creative and, potentially, life- and world-altering program it truly is. At the same time, however, it would avoid the over promising/“tell them what they want to hear”/manipulative practices that are such a comfortable – and assumed part – of so many marketing programs. Above all, the message would be invitational; avoiding any suggestion that Radical Decency is “the way” or “the only way.”

This is not to suggest that we should become diffident or falsely modest in our presentation. Radical Decency and approaches like it are desperately needed in our lives and in the world. So while remaining invitational in our approach, the message would be strong, clear, and appropriately amplified.

We will be doing our job well if, in our marketing, we offer a “passionate invitation” while always taking care never to slip into proselytization or manipulative persuasion. With such an approach in place, our message to the larger world would be this:

  • If you are fully in, great. We are confident that you will be richly rewarded for your choice.
  • If you and I share some but not all of Radical Decency’s premises, that is fine too. Perhaps our ongoing dialogue will reveal commonalities, and new and creative ways of collaborating.
  • And if you have no interest, we genuinely wish you well in finding your way knowing that, in the end, we have no monopoly on wisdom.

The goal: To allow people, exposed to our marketing material, to feel engaged with in an authentic and respectful way; allowing them to consider our ideas – and possible participation in our programs – from a place of increasing trust and open mindedness.

With this approach, we will never feel pushed to compromise Radical Decency’s core values in the process of marketing them. We will, instead, be enriched by the continually challenge of practicing and modeling marketing strategies that fully reflect them.

In all of this, the issue of effectiveness is very much in play. Foregoing traditional marketing tactics will undoubtedly leave many opportunities on the table. But if we are serious about creating an alternative approach to living – and maintaining its integrity –there is no other way. The truth in this area, as in so many others, is that there are no easy choices. As tempting as they are, marketing strategies that temporize on Radical Decency’s core values – for the sake of short-term gain – are misguided. The pull of the culture’s mainstream values is simply too strong.