(P1) Community, Perspective and Hope: Keeping Your Eyes on the Prize, A Story from Bryan Stevenson, Attorney and Social Activist

I was representing a group of kids and went to see them in jail. They were 13 and 14 year olds who had been certified adults and – as “adults” – received very harsh sentences.  I asked myself, how could this happen? How could a judge turn you into something you’re not?

My next thought: If a judge can turn you into something you’re not, he must have magic power – and I should ask him for some of it.  And because I was up too late and wasn’t thinking straight, I started working on a motion, headed: “Motion to try my poor 14 year old black client as a privileged white 75 year old corporate executive.”

In the motion, I said there had been prosecutorial misconduct, police misconduct and judicial misconduct.  There was even a crazy line, in there, that in this county there was no conduct at all – just misconduct.  The next morning I woke up and said, “did I dream that crazy motion or did I actually write it?” And to my horror, I had not only written it, I had sent it to court.

A couple of months went by and, finally, I had to go to court to present this crazy case.  I was feeling overwhelmed.  This was going to be so difficult; so painful.

When I got out of the car and was walking up to the courthouse there was this older black man, a janitor, and when he saw me he said, “who are you?”  I said, “I’m a lawyer.” And he said, “you’re a lawyer?” I said, “yes sir.” And this man came over to me, hugged me, and whispered in my ear “I’m so proud of you.”

I have to tell you, it was energizing.  It connected deeply with something in me about identity; about the capacity of every person to contribute to community, and perspective,  and hope.

As soon as I walked into the courtroom, the judge saw me and said, “Mr. Stevenson, did you write this crazy motion?” I said, “yes sir I did,” and we started arguing. And people started coming in because they were outraged that I had written these crazy things – police, and assistant prosecutors, and court workers.  Before I knew it the courtroom was filled with people who were angry because we were talking about race – and poverty – and inequality.

As all this was going on, out of the corner of my eye, I could see the janitor pacing back and forth, and that he kept looking through the window and could hear all this hollering.  Finally, with a very worried look on his face, he came into the courtroom and sat down behind me, almost at counsel’s table.

About 10 minutes later the judge said we would take a break.  And during the break a deputy sheriff, offended that the janitor had come into court, ran over and said, “Jimmy, what are you doing in this courtroom?”  The older black man stood up.  He looked at the deputy, looked at me, and said, “I came into this courtroom to tell this young men, ‘keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.’ ”


I am here today because many of you understand that the moral arc of the universe is long but that it bends toward justice; that we cannot be fully evolved human beings until we care about human rights and basic dignity; that all of our survival is tied to the survival of everyone; and that our visions of technology and design and entertainment and creativity have to be married with a vision of humanity, compassion and justice. And more than anything – for those of you who share this vision – I have simply come to tell you this: Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.

Watch the TED video from which this story is excerpted.

(P2) Loved to Death by Money, A Story from Jeff Garson, Psychotherapist and Attorney

In 1984, the celebration of the Bicentennial of the Constitution was a hot topic in Philadelphia. And, as a reward for my hard work on his campaign, the new Mayor appointed me to the committee that was planning the event. From my perspective, it was a pretty dismal affair, mostly a bunch of rich people throwing a party for themselves.

At one sparsely attended meeting, however, a committee member suggested that we create an event legacy, perhaps a museum. Speaking in its favor, I was soon drafted to chair a subcommittee to develop the idea.

That was the beginning of an amazing 7-year journey. Working closely with my partner on project, Craig Eisendrath, we saw a unique opportunity to develop a Center that would teach the values implicit in the Constitution.

The moment was just right. In no time at all, we had a planning grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts, the attention of key political leaders and the best Constitutional scholars, and operational funding from Congress. Today, the National Constitution Center stands at the north end of Independence Mall, here in Philadelphia.

But here – from a Radical Decency perspective – is the real story of the Constitution Center’s creation as I see it.

Craig and I started with a radical vision. We would use the country’s origin story to teach the real meaning of a set of values, honored in theory but, all too seldom, in fact: Justice, civil rights and civil liberties, a respectful public dialogue. In the end, however, our dream died, supplanted by mainstream museum that reinforces our status quo ways of doing business – by retelling a politically safe story of triumph and American exceptionalism.

What I find most interesting is how this happened. As money flooded in, substantive control of the project migrated – seamlessly and imperceptibly – to a generous and well-intentioned group of donors. And what confused and disarmed Craig and me, for far too long, is that most of these donors actually liked our “radical” vision – at least in theory.

What we failed to realize, however, was that these people became wealthy playing by the rules of the mainstream culture – and that “that” was their true bottom line. So as one smart decision and compromise followed another – all in the name of attracting more funds and strategic support – a radical programmatic mission morphed into the mainstream museum that exists today.

For me, this is a paradigmatic story for our times: How radical initiatives – instead of being persecuted and quashed – are domesticated, marginalized and derailed; loved to death by money.

Am I bitter about what happened? No. Do I visit the National Constitution Center? Almost never. Hopefully, lessons learned from this experience will serve my ongoing efforts to contribute to a better, more decent world.

(P3) Dilemmas of Public Service: Inspiration, Disillusion, Perplexity, A Story from Craig Eisendrath

As a young Foreign Service officer, assigned to work with the US delegation to the United Nations, I begin to learn about its Secretary-General, a man named Dag Hammarskjold.  He had resolved differences between the United States and China which might have led to war, and just a few years ago had set up the United Nations Emergency Force, which had separated Israel from the Arab states, and so had created a peace when both sides were ready for war. He seems so quintessentially the international civil servant.  Totally focused on the issues, with almost no concern for himself.  The story is that when he set up the UN Emergency Force, he didn’t sleep for thirteen nights, and he saved tens of thousands of lives.  While we in the State Department are pursuing our national interest, he is working for the interests of all nations, without distinction

It is his vision that inspires me to work with others to create an international law for outer space. It is 1960 and the US and Russia are beginning to develop satellites for orbiting bombs and for locating the positions of rocket launchers, ships, and planes.  We are also using satellites to pick up immediately when the Russians might attempt to launch a preemptive strike against the United States.  The satellites will give us time to respond, which sets up the nuclear the standoff which is called Mutual Assured Destruction, or MAD.  But if we or the Soviets attempt to shoot down satellites, all the satellites we are developing for peaceful purposes will be knocked out as well.  Now is the time when the United States and the rest of the world need to sign on to a treaty preserving outer space for peaceful purposes.

I help set up a United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. It’s still too early for nations to make a definitive commitment, but the time is right to begin to draw up the framework for such a commitment, to have nations represented in a political process that can lead to a set of agreements or treaties governing outer space.

But then . . . my two-year assignment to State Department’s UN Political Office comes to an end and all my work is suspended.  How can I leave at a time like this?  But there’s no flexibility. I must go where the Department sends me


[Two years later, when Eisendrath’s assignment as vice-consul in Naples, Italy ends, the story resumes]


I go back to the United Nations Political Office, to my old job. But now the danger of outer space being weaponized is vastly increased.  We and the Soviets can now orbit nuclear bombs, which, unlike ICBMs in silos on the ground, will be almost impossible to knock out. Yes, we now face the real possibility of total annihilation raining down from the heavens!

So I begin to work again with the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, and help draft a treaty which will eliminate all weapons in outer space.  But it soon becomes clear that the Department of Defense will not accept a total ban, will only reluctantly accept a treaty banning weapons of mass destruction, and refuses to accept any verification.  Clearly they want to keep their options open.  International peace is being sacrificed for power and defense contracts, not national security!  We rewrite the treaty to include only weapons of mass destruction; it goes to the United Nations, and is eventually endorsed by the requisite number of countries, including the United States and the Soviet Union.

I receive a medal for my work on the Treaty, but I’m already beginning to back away. How can I revere Dag Hammarskjold, and continue to work just for the interests of the United States?  We and the Soviets have tens of thousands of missiles pointed at each other.  Instead of building up these deadly missiles, shouldn’t we be engaged in the most earnest diplomacy to cut them down?

Instead the Department of Defense blocks our signing of the Comprehensive Nuclear Treaty Ban Treaty.  The excuse: The Soviets can cheat without our knowing it.

I don’t believe it.  We have ringed the Soviet Union with seismic arrays which we can pick up a nuclear pin drop.   So now I not only see the Treaty defeated but, in addition, am being asked to lie in public.

What am I to do?  If I lie now on an issue so important, I know I will never stop. I’ll spend my entire career tainted with this lack of integrity.  It’s over. I fill out all the requisite forms, I say goodbye to my office mates in the UN Political Office, attend one last cocktail party, and walk away from my diplomatic career!

But for years, I will wonder if this was the right decision, if despite such difficulties, I could not have done a substantial amount of good for the world by staying in the Foreign Service, rising to an ambassador or Assistant Secretary of State, actually helping to create the policies that would make the world a safer place.

(B1) Building A Business On Decency Principles, A Story From Mike Brady, Financial Planner

I remember walking out of an interview with KPMG, second semester senior year at Widener.  I had just received notice that I would win the Accounting Prize; something I had coveted since my freshman year.  I loved Accounting, or so I thought.  However, during each interview I realized more and more that while I loved to budget, plan and execute financial goals, I hated the idea of sitting in a cubicle, analyzing numbers all day, and reporting up a corporate chain of command.  I realized I couldn’t be an Accountant and letting these companies know that was the decent thing to do – for them and for me.

I enrolled instead in Widener’s MBA program and on day one – in class one — I figured out what I wanted to do. I had elected to take Financial Planning 600 and, upon reading the syllabus, I immediately realized that that was my future.

I know what my gift is.  I can communicate with people and connect in ways that allow them to be comfortably guided by my advice.   In financial planning, I have the opportunity to use that gift – and my Accounting skills – to change lives.  I can assess a financial situation, build a comprehensive financial plan and communicate something that seems very daunting to just about anyone.

During my MBA program I spent most of my time figuring out how to operate my business.  Its cornerstone is my value proposition: To integrate myself into my clients’ families as their “financial doctor; the person to whom they turn to prudently guide their near, middle and long term financial decisions.  My mission is to be my clients’ total financial resource: Providing unbiased financial advice; protecting their family and assets; improving their quality of life.

Doing so, I am able to accomplish two things.  The first is my overriding client-related goal: “To place individuals and families in a better financial position then when I first arrived” (decency to others).  The second is to build a reservoir of good will that yields unlimited growth potential through referrals from existing clients (decency to self).

Within a week of starting my business, I was introduced to the Delaware County Chamber of Commerce; an association that offers networking, education and advocacy to businesses throughout our region.  The decision to take a leadership role in the Chamber has shaped my career; allowing me to use my instinct for helping others to positively impact the local business landscape and to do invaluable networking.

My hard work at the Chamber has definitely paid off.  Many of my clients have come to me through relationships that developed in the course of that work. But while the Chamber opened the door to many opportunities, my ability to deliver on my core value proposition has been the key to my success.

In my industry, the number one mistake advisors make is to gloss over the truth. But my value proposition makes the temptation to follow this path an nonstarter.  Instead, it dictates respect, transparency, and honesty in every aspect of the client relationship.

Transparency begins at the “prospect” stage.  When someone is interested in talking, my first goal is to spend time looking at what type of help they need; to see if I can deliver services they need.  The alternative – to bend my value proposition to take on a new client – makes no sense.  All it does is set the stage for a future disaster.  One of my cardinal rules is to send a prospective client elsewhere when my approach doesn’t meet their needs

A good example took place early in my career.  I was approached by a couple that, at the time, would have been one of my largest clients.  They wanted me to be a “day trader” for their money.  They had no problem with the associated transaction costs but wanted me to be available at any moment during market hours and to execute trades on a consistent basis.  But my value proposition did not accommodate these services.  First, I am a “long term” investor.  Second, I am out most days visiting clients.  Third, I do not believe you can build long term wealth by constantly making market moves.  After discussing my concerns with the potential clients, I referred them to a more appropriate professional.

Being wholly transparent about cost is another crucial element.  Too many advisors make the decision either not to discuss, or to hide, the cost of their advice and of the financial products they use.   For me, however, cost is always an essential part of the first conversation – to ensure that clients don’t experience any unpleasant surprises going forward.

Once we have an agreement on what is expected, what I will deliver, and what it will cost, we begin the financial planning process by gathering all of the client’s financial information using a fact-finder.  This document specifies in detail the client’s assets, income level, insurance coverages, and investment risk tolerance.  In my approach, full disclosure by the client is non-negotiable. Why?  Because without it, my ability to deliver on my value proposition will be compromised.

The final element is honesty and transparency in the follow-up sessions I schedule to evaluate the client’s plan at regular intervals.   This last step allows me to educate my clients on an ongoing basis, and keep them on-track to meet their goals.  It is also the best way to add new clients.  Clients who have seen me be fair, honest and attentive – over time and throughout the process – have always been my best referral source, by far.

My bottom line?  Radical Decency, expressed through my value proposition, is the centerpiece of success, both financially and in terms of professional satisfaction.

(B2) Seeking Decency In Difficult Times, A Story From Jeff Garson, Psychotherapist and Attorney

In 2005, I was striving to run a healing center – offering psychotherapy, chiropractic, massage, financial planning, and life coaching – in a radically decent way.  On the business side, one central goal was to establish a financial relationship of trust between the core group of professional/business partners.

Regarding compensation, the plan was to divide up the money as a group, with each professional having an equal voice in the decision. And our written charter offered this guideline:  Each professional’s compensation would, over time, approximate his or her financial contribution (decency to self).  At the same time, we would moderate our expectations for the sake of the business and its goal of decency in all that we do (decency to others and the world).

Easy to articulate, not so easy in practice.

Why? Because, inevitably, Radical Decency brings with it wisdom-stretching moments that are both exquisitely uncomfortable and – if we are up to the challenge – times of powerful insight and growth.  For me and my partners, one of these defining moments involved our chiropractor’s compensation.

Here’s what happened.  In our culture, chiropractic is far more lucrative than psychotherapy, coaching, or massage.  And to complicate matters, trust didn’t come easily for our chiropractor; a quality quickly triggered because he was negotiating this vitally important financial relationship with a long-time attorney – me.

As the negotiations unfolded, our model of trust quickly fell by the wayside.  Even though we’d been working together for months, organizing the business, he just couldn’t get comfortable with it.  So, after weeks of emotionally fraught negotiations, we wound up with an agreement in principle that guaranteed him 55% of the chiropractic income, with the possibility of further compensation more if the practice really took off.

But just as we were finalizing the deal, the realities of life intruded.  The chiropractor was diagnosed with a long-term medical condition that, depending on its progression, could make it impossible for him to function as a chiropractor, in a few years if not months.

So how in the world, in this situation, do you balance decency to self (me and the other non-chiropractic partners) with decency to others (the chiropractor)?

Here’s what we came up with. When our colleague reached the point where chiropractic work was impossible, we would take a snapshot of that side of the business, hire a replacement, and continue our original chiropractor’s compensation at 60% (that is, chiropractic income, multipled by .6, multipled by .55).  In addition, we would re-train him as a different type of healer, with his income from that aspect of his work to be determined by the compensation rules described above.


Was this the “right,” or the “best,” or even a “good” solution?  For me, these questions have no answer.  But I do know the episode grew me as a businessman and a person.

One lesson learned is that I try too hard.  I can see now that we were never going to get by the chiropractor’s trust issues; a fact driven home to me when – just few months into the contract – he quit, convinced he was being cheated.  In retrospect, it would have been more decent to everyone if I had called a halt to the negotiations; if I had recognized that no amount of clever problem solving and persistence was going to work.

Another equally helpful lesson is that less traditional, more decent solutions are in fact possible even to the most seemingly intractable of situations – if we persist in our efforts to be decent at all times, in every context, and without exception.

(I1) Decency to the World: Walking the Walk, A Story From Candy Kean, An Inner City 3rd Grade Teacher

Thank you for sending me Reflection 8: Why We Aren’t Good Students, Why It Matters. It lays s out some profound issues. I want to address just a few of them and while you may already know and understand, I want to be able to tell you from my daily perspective,

Jeff, we are charged with teaching our students how to write. However, many had poor teachers in prior years, or have little or no experience in writing. This is of critical importance. If children cannot express themselves in writing, they simply lose out on chances in the future, whether it’s writing college applications, a letter, or a story.

Second, we are faced with HUMONGOUS challenges at home – from no parents, to one parent, to drugs, to alcohol, to all kinds of violence and God knows what else. I constantly tell my children that learning is a ticket out. But 3rd graders come to me never having done any sustained reading – without interruption for up to 1/2 hour. You think its hard getting a teenager to listen????? Try getting 15 of these students to stay in their seats and read for 20 minutes. IMPOSSIBLE.

Why is this important? Because you need to CONCENTRATE and my students are used to constant interruptions. Even kids with ADDHD can read, but my incoming students can’t read at all. In addition, because home life is so erratic, teachers are additionally charged with the welfare of their students OUTSIDE OF SCHOOL.


I could tell you stories that would make your skin crawl, including this one. My first year in any school, I was an intern, paired with senior teacher who screamed incessantly at her kindergartners all day long.  One student she regularly yelled was a brilliant child  — sweet, calm and quiet. I knew something was wrong at home but couldn’t get it out of him. Then, he started coming in with bruises. I went to the nurse, who contacted DHS. My classroom teacher??? She yelled at me for going to the nurse and said she wouldn’t get involved. I told her I WOULD.

This child’s mom was leaving to get drugs and the kid was being bound and gagged because he complained. The mother, in an effort to save herself, asked me to call if I had any questions. One day, when I failed to call, she came to the school yard and yelled at me: “MISS KEAN, I HAVE FOUR CHILDREN UNDER THE AGE OF 10! WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO??” I looked at her, speechless, and realizing what she just said, added “I didn’t mean it that way.”

Since that day, I have learned that if I do not teach the WHOLE CHILD, my job is a waste of time.

A few weeks ago, one of my kids suddenly stopped functioning. I sat down next to her and asked what was going on. She shook her head and I sat there for a few minutes, until the tears rolled down her cheek.

“It’s just that my mom keeps yelling. I didn’t do anything, but she yells at me. Tells me I took her wallet and her things. And I didn’t do, Miss Kean!”
I paused, and said “Well, when does this happen? When you get home from school?”
“No, in the morning. She be out all night partying with her sister and get up to go to school and she yells at me!”
“Who stays with you? Are you alone?”
“No, the babysitter’s there. She’s nice”
“So mom comes home it’s morning?”
“Does mom walk funny when you see her, sort of stumble?”
“How did you know, Miss Kean? She stumbles and falls all over the place! This morning, she threw up too!”
“Does her voice sound normal?”
“No, she can’t speak right. Like her words are slurry or something.”

OK. So, I’ve stopped teaching to focus on this child. I look around and everyone else is busy doing math or reading. I tell my student not to worry, that everything will be fine, that mom doesn’t mean to be mean – and make a B-line for the phone. Thank God the counselor is NOT busy. She immediately comes to my room. And the child, nervous at first, is more comfortable when her friends run to greet the counselor.

So why in all the world did I just spend all this insane time telling you this?????? First, because there are tons of teachers who could care less, who just don’t want to get involved. Second, because last time I checked, I’m NOT a licensed therapist. Yet I spend a lot of time trying to figure this stuff out. Why? Because if I don’t, teaching becomes impossible.

I chose to teach in an urban environment against the advice of others around me. But, I felt a need to give to the less fortunate. And I’m not complaining.


So while we teach to a test, we are teaching skills the students need. I want them to have every advantage and if that means teaching writing skills to kids who will never fill out college applications, it doesn’t matter. Third graders have to know how to write.

I know this doesn’t address the more meaningful stuff you write about in Radical Decency, but I wish more people knew what I do because I wonder how they would think about teachers if they really knew.

Remember student whose mom was coming home drunk in the morning? She’s AWOL. We’re trying to figure out what happened. Meanwhile, I am dealing with a student whose dad repeatedly punches him in the face; a child who’s neglected by both parents; a boy with serious, SERIOUS depression; four mentally gifted kids (who keep me sane); and a bunch of other stuff.

I’ve written too much and I’m sorry. But I never know what I am going to find each day when I go to school. I only pray that the kids are being fed and taken care of during the time I don’t have them in my charge. Oh, and I hope they are reading and writing, too.

(I2) Money and Family: To Give or Not To Give, The Struggles of A Loving Sister

Knowing that bad things happen to good people, I have always had a soft spot for have-nots. Indeed, I can’t even walk down a city street without giving everything in my pocket away. I am a caring, giving, and generous person – or so I have always told myself.

That’s why I struggled so with my reactions when my brother asked me for money. Why was giving money to a member of my family such an emotionally difficult question?

Here is my story.

One evening, I received a call from my brother. ” I have a small favor to ask you. Can I borrow $5,000?” My immediate thought: A SMALL FAVOR? Are you kidding me! But I kept my feelings to myself and listened.

His vehicle is his livelihood and he needed a new one. He wasn’t making enough money to provide for his family. He had to make the change. Since the cost was $10,000 and the bank would only give him $5,000, he needed me to give him the rest.

Because the vehicle was used and old, I worried that it was a bad investment. But when I tried to get more information he got insulted, insisting it was all thought out. “If you don’t want to give me the money then just forget about it”. I ended the conversation by saying that I couldn’t make the decision alone. I would have to discuss it with my husband.

My husband’s approach was very objective. “Ask your brother about his business plan and, if it is well thought out, lend him the money.” For him, it was easy. Give him money so long as it was being put to proper use and would be paid back.

Outwardly, I criticized my husbands’ approach as uncaring and judgmental. I wanted him to say: Just give him the money and don’t worry about getting paid back. Deep down, however, I agreed with my husband but didn’t want to admit it. It was easier to blame him. That way, I could maintain by self-image as a kind and selfless person, wiling to give without any preconditions or expectations – even as I held my brother at arms-length.

I was also reluctant to deal with the reality of my brother’s history of impulsive decision-making, poor judgment, and alcoholism. Given these issues, I started to agonize about the difference between lending a helping hand and enabling. In the end, I decided that turning him down, while emotionally difficult, was the best decision. Instead of $5,000, I gave him $400 for the first month of his health insurance. He made no further requests.

A year and a half passed and my brother’s situation continued to get worse. He was on a train heading for a brick wall. He was barely working and couldn’t pay his bills. So, once again, he asked for help. This time I gave him $500 and my parents provided additional support. But I was tired and angry. My parents and I were giving him our hard earned money because he was drinking his money away and spending it on a woman we didn’t even know.

But my anger quickly changed to guilt when the news came that my brother had tried to kill himself – and very nearly succeeded. I couldn’t stop thinking: Why didn’t I not just give him the money? It would have been so easy. It would have relieved his financial burdens. And yet even in the midst of these unrelenting thoughts, I knew – in another part of my brain – that it would only have been another band-aid.

It is now several weeks later and I still have to decide what to do. My husband and I don’t’ want to turn our backs on someone who is trying to do the right thing. But we have also decided that we cannot give without preconditions. We have to know that the money is being used for a good purpose.

So we are only going to pay specific bills – for a doctor’s appointment or medications – instead of giving him a lump sum. And while there are also many non-monetary alternatives, these choices just feel too emotionally draining. For now, we are going to limit ourselves to money.

So back to my original question: What has made giving to my brother so difficult? It is, I suspect, my sense that it can’t fix the problem and might even make it worse by enabling his self-destructive behavior.

In the end, I could only do what felt right at each particular point in time.

And the questions continue: How much should be give? For how long? And when does it end?

Multimedia – The Response/Cure: Being Radically Decent

These materials discuss ways in which we can supplant mainstream habits of living with a Radical Decency practice.

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Brown, Brene, The Power of Vulnerability (June 2010) (video, 20 minutes), available on the web through TED, Ideas Worth Spreading
(vulnerability and authenticity as the path to a sense of worthiness)

Siegel, Daniel, What Is Mindsight (Nov. 12, 2010) (video, 10 minutes), available on YouTube
Siegel, Daniel, The Triangle of Well Being (video, 15 minute), available on YouTube
(offers an definition of the “mind” as a mental process that regulates energy and information [first video] and “mental health” as the cultivation and integration of insight, self regulation, and relationship)

Reflection 27: Radical Decency — The Basics (Feb. 20, 2011) (podcast, 10 minutes)
(a review of the rationale for Radical Decency, its core practices and psychic pay-offs)

Reflection 32: Being the Person I Hope to Become – My Personal Guide for Living
(the author’s personal guide for seeking to live a more radically decent life)


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Stevenson, Bryan, We Need to Talk About Injustice (March 2012) (video, 23 minutes), available on the web through TED, Ideas Worth Spreading
(commitment to social justice as an essential aspect of a humane and decent society)

Reflection 12: Radical Decency in Politics – Pitfalls and Possibilities
(fundamental change in the political realm requires us to systematically challenge the indecent values that fuel our indecent public choices, and to cultivate far more collaborative approaches to change)

Reflection 45: Re-Visioning Social Change Work
(detailed description of how Radical Decency’s values-based approach could lead social justice organizations to modify their internal processes and substantive programs and tactics, and deepen their collaboration with personal growth types)

Reflection 55: Be Decent to Hitler?
(consistent with Radical Decency’s principles, how to deal with a politician who, we belief, is unscrupulous and dangerous in ways that are self-protective, embrace our responsibility to resist injustice and, at the same time, are respectful, understanding and empathic)


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Reflection 39: A Radically Decent Business – Lessons Learned
(practical lessons drawn from the experiences of the owner of a radically decent business)

Reflection 43: A Fairy Tale
(describing the ideal evolution of a radically decent business)

Reflection 52: Marketing Radical Decency – Lessons Learned
(cautioning against a mainstream approach that molds the message to the target audience; arguing in favor of a message that is forthright in its radical aims and invitational — rather than proselytory — in its approach)


Multimedia – The Problem/Diagnosis: The Mainstream Culture’s Predominant Values

Radical Decency premises the following:

1. Our world is dominated by indecent values – competing and winning; domination and control;

2. These values have created engrained habits of living that fail to support us in being decent to our selves – or to others – or to the world;

3. Overcoming these habitual, mainstream ways of operating is our major challenge in creating a more decent life and world.

These materials discuss the ways on which this phenomenon unfolds: As Individuals (in our private lives); In Politics; In Business.

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Brown, Brene, The Price of Invulnerability (Oct. 2010) (video, 16 minutes), available on the web through TED, Ideas Worth Spreading
(describes our culture-driven striving for invulnerability and its price; gratitude, appreciation of the ordinary, and joy as the antidote)

Reflection 8: Why We Aren’t Good Students, Why It Matters
(the culture’s emphasis on competing and winning short-circuits study of, and reflection on, life’s big issues: Who we are, how the structure of the world affects us, what is means to live well)

Reflection 14: Dying and Our Epidemic of Immortality
(we avoid the reality of death; giving away our accumulated wisdom is a more generative and satisfying approach to aging and dying)

Reflection 16: Mainstream Thinking and the Tyranny of Opinion and Judgment
(opinion and judgment have supplanted dialogue and reflection; a process that is reinforced when we uncritically assume the best about “us,” look for single causes, and too readily assume that our own thoughts and feelings are true)

Reflection 22: Consumerism and the Decline of Intimacy and Community
(the culture’s consumer mindset promotes a passivity that deeply infects our relationships and politics, and has led to a massive decline in communal activity)

Reflection 25: The Vise of Money
(money is the mainstream culture’s measure of success; its effect on our lives is vise-like; the importance of lifting the veil of silence around money so we can move toward a more healthy relationship with it)

Reflection 31: Perfectionism
(“we can do anything, it we try hard enough” — perfectionism — is deeply embedded in our culture; it obscures systemic causes and promotes self-blame; inherently unattainable, perfectionism is a major cause of our epidemic of anxiety and depression)

Reflection 58: Humor, Reason, and the Disease That Ails Us
(culture’s mainstream values infiltrate virtually every area of living; for example, humor too easily becomes an unacknowledged expression of anger, reason an instrument of bullying and abuse)



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Katherine Boo, Shelter and the Storm: Katrina’s Victim’s Come to Town, The New Yorker, Nov. 28, 2005 (article)
(story of one shelter, in one community; illustrating how our confused values short-circuit relief efforts)

Brooks, David, Possum Republicans, New York Times, February 27, 2012 (article)
(describes a 50 year dynamic by which moderate Republican, by placating “politics of protest” conservatives, have been marginalized)

Noam Chomsky, The State-Corporate Complex (October 28, 2011) (video, 55 minutes ), available on the web through Big Ideas

Davidson, Adam and Joffe-Walt, Chana, 10,000 Brainiacs (May 21, 2010) (podcast, 25 minutes), Act One of Island Time, Episode 408 of This Amerian Life
(Case study, from Haiti, about efforts to provide crates for Mangoes; illustrates the complexities that so often defeat efforts to improve living conditions)

Diamond, Jared, Why Societies Collapse (video, 20 minutes), available on the web through TED, Ideas Worth Spreading.
(Searing analysis of what brings about environmental collapse, predicting a window of decades for our society absent good choices)

Gabel, Peter, “Yes, We Can”?, Tikkun Magazine, Nov. 16, 2010 (article)
(describes the importance of community in creating a meaningful political movement; its absence in the Obama 2008 election campaign)

Haidt, Jonathan, The Real Difference Between Liberals and Cons (Sept. 18, 2008) (video, 19 minutes), available on the web through TED, Ideas Worth Spreading.
(distinguishing between liberals and conservatives based on their affinity for our different aspects of our instinctive human morality)

Langewiesche, William, City of Fear, Vanity Fair, April 2007 (article)
(using as his example the chilling story of a prisoner led organization’s massive influence in the slums of Sao Paulo, the author describe the exponential growth, in today’s world, of “feral zones”; areas, even whole countries where civil authority myth)

Daniel Quinn, Where We Went Wrong (Oct. 7, 2007) (video, 10 minutes), available on YouTube
(describing the shift from hunter-gatherers to a species in which the food supply is controlled by an elite; the inequities to which it has led; and the species threatening imbalances it has caused)

Vistica, Gregory, One Awful Night in Thanh Phong, New York Times Magazine, April 21, 2001 (article)
Anonymous, The War in Chechnya: Diary of a Killer, The Velvet Rocket, reprinted from The Times of London, Oct 31, 2010 (article)
(different generations, different wars, same story; when people are armed to the teeth and given permission to kill; and the mainstream culture refuses to connect the dots)

Reflection 2: Why Republicans Win
(the Republican worldview more perfectly reflects our cultural addiction to fight/flight states, a trend that began 10,000 years ago and — due to massive technological transformations — has greatly accelerated in the last 200 years)

Reflection 20: Social Justice – The Third Rail of Radical Decency
(the culture condones neglect of “decency to the world,” but Radical Decency requires its whole-hearted embrace; describes specific cultural, psychological and neurobiological realities that make this process very challenging)

Reflections 49: Politics – System Analysis, Values Solution
(the mainstream culture’s systemic interest in maintaining consumer spending — without increasing wages — explains many of the most important public policy shifts in the last 40 years, including the exponential increase of women in the workplace, the growth in credit card use, and the nationalization and securitization of the mortgage market)

Reflection 60: The (Not So) Mysterious Absence of Public Role Models
(we reflexively tear down leaders and exalt “winning” over “decency” in choosing role models; when a rare transformational leader survives this process — Jesus, Martin Luther King — the culture rewrites his or her the story to progressively extinguish its radical message)


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Blumberg, Alex, Eat My Shorts (Apr. 9, 2010) (podcast, 40 minutes), Episode 405, from This American Life
(dealing with manipulations behind the housing meltdown of 2008; describing “bets” that financial institutions made against the very mortgages they were promoting)

Duhigg, Charles, How Companies Learn Your Secrets, in New York Times Magazine (February 16, 2012) (article)
(excellent example of how companies learn details of your life, manipulate your choices, and hide the process from you)

Reflection 34: Triumphal Business and the Demise of Checks and Balances
(describing the exponential expansion of business’ power over the last 200 years and the consequences of our failure to adjust our system of checks and balances to limit that power)

Reflection 42: It’s Not As Bad As You Think — It’s Worse
(detailing the depth of the greed and amorality that fueled the subprime mortgage collapse of 2008 and the mechanisms used to exploit homeowners and defraud investors)