This is the second of three Reflections that deal with this key question:
Living in a world, structured to funnel reform-minded people into largely unconnected, issues-specific work – climate change or personal growth; health and nutrition or business ethics – are there mechanisms that can bring us together; magnifying the efforts of each; creating, in this way, a more inclusive and effective movement for change?
My answer: A movement, built upon expanded and invigorated communal engagements and collaborative commitments, that is, in turn, driven by a far more explicit recognition of a deeper unity of purpose that the best of these issues-specific initiatives share around decency’s 7 values.
Elaborating on this thesis:
- Reflection #89 (the first in the series) offered a framework for expanding and deepening our communal commitments.
- This Reflection #90 contrasts our current collaborative mindsets with the far more expansive framework that Radical Decency’s values dictate.
- The final Reflection, #91, will offer a vision for how these collaborative ideas might look in practice.
When it comes to our change oriented activities, everybody can’t do everything. Some reform-minded people will elaborate their Radical Decency ideals in the context of their ethnic communities, others within their church or mosque, still others where they work or in less traditional communities. And, of course, a large number of people will continue to pursue these values in their unique, go it alone way – a very sizable group, given our engrained individualistic habits of living.
Given this reality, the deeper communal engagements, described in Reflection #89, while vitally important, are not enough. We also need to create an environment in which reform-minded people, now far more typically engaged in uncoordinated initiatives, can be brought into more fruitful connection with one another, both at an individual level and, importantly, through deeper, more persistent communal alignments.
In other words, we need to re-think what it means to be collaborative.
Unfortunately, endemic confusion about the values-based disease that ails us has deeply inhibited meaningful movement in that direction. And it has done so through structures that are so embedded within our predominant “compete and win” culture as to be virtually invisible – and, for that reason, breathtakingly effective.
It begins with a stunning dichotomy in our culturally sanctioned, mainstream view of what ails us.
While our points of emphasis differ, depending on our political orientation, our endemic indecency is widely recognized and commented upon. By contrast, the fact that these many, varied and deepening manifestations of indecency are rooted in the culture’s wildly out of control compete and win mindset – that that is the underlying cause of so much of what is wrong – is seldom recognized or discussed.
The result: Reflecting the obscurity that shrouds this fundamental values issue, would-be reformers are channeled in vocations and organizational structures that allow them to challenge particular manifestations of indecency – poverty, tyranny, wars of aggression, racism, and so on – but not the underlying values system from which these indecencies arise.
This phenomenon is massively effective – if the goal is to marginalize reform energy. It allows the status quo system to maintain and extend its power by creating the current perplexing, and deeply discouraging, reform landscape in which:
- There are so many creative and admirable reform efforts that, nevertheless,
- Never seem to cohere into an initiative with the ability to bend our culture toward a more decent trajectory.
Because it is so deeply engrained, most all of us, instead of challenging this do your own thing mindset, seek to do our best within in. And when is comes to our prospects for more meaningful collaboration, the effect is dramatic – and deeply consequential.
Everywhere we look there is indecency: At work; in politics; in the world of commerce; in our day-by-day interactions with others; in the ways in which we push and judge our selves. Seeing indecency in so many seemingly unconnected acts and ways of operating, a feasible strategy – that addresses the larger, overarching “how we live” issue – feels like a giant, futile game of whack-a-mole in which progress might be made on one issue, only to see new, even more disturbing manifestations of indecency pop up in multiple, new areas.
The result? Even those of us who don’t give up the fight altogether, tend to walk down this well-worn path:
- We focus on a particular issue we feel passionate about, usually reflecting our own life experience.
Then, further limiting the scope of our vision:
- We become specialists – academics, political activists, reform-minded workers and businessmen, service workers, therapist/healers – telling ourselves that, in other areas, we need to defer to the experts.
And then, finally, cementing our isolation from one another:
- Our interactions with people beyond our area of interest and expertise become passive and intermittent (at best).
With each of these factors reinforcing one another, the possibility for meaningful, ongoing collaboration across areas of interest and expertise is, at best, pushed to margins. Intent doing their (often entirely noble) thing, reformers see no compelling programmatic link with people whose focus is elsewhere. And there is, as a result, no reason – other than curiosity and a generalized sense of good will – to use their precious time and energy to seek out and collaborate, in an active and sustained way, with people whose initiatives are outside their area of activity.
And what, then, of the all-important values issue?
Our implicit, unarticulated hope is that, somehow, these disparate initiatives will magically and spontaneously knit together into a coherent whole that, as this process gathers momentum, will lead to a more decent world.
Unfortunately, when wishful thinking replaces strategizing and the hard work of organizing, we have, in my view, effectively conceded the issue.
In seeking to find our way to a more robust and meaningful form of collaboration, Radical Decency’s values-based approach can, potentially, play a formative and transformational role. Fully realized, it will bring, to each of our now, seemingly disparate reform initiatives, a shared vision of what it means to work toward a more decent and humane world; a vision with the power to knit these initiatives together into a unified, energized, and far more effective force for change.
While Radical Decency does not seek to supplant and replace the vitally important, issue-specific work that is our current focus, it does seek to crucially expand the context in which it takes place – to include the vitally important values issues that is the underlying cause of so much of the indecency and injustice with which we are confronted.
A premise, fundamental to Radical Decency, is that – hoping to create a different and better world – we all, all of us, need to integrate into our issues-specific orientations and, equally, our day by day, on the ground tactics a decisive shift:
— Away from the culture’s compete and win, dominate and control values; and
— Toward decency’s 7 values.
Fully taking account of the utterly symbiotic relationship between personal growth and social change work, discussed in last week’s Reflection, Radical Decency also emphasizes the need to practice these values in every area of our lives – if, that is, we hope to create meaningful, sustained momentum in the direction of decency to self, others, and the world.
When it comes to collaboration, these premises dictate – and, for that reason will, hopefully, impel us toward – an expanded and far more inclusive collaborative approach. Seeking out people who share our commitment to change but have different interests and capabilities – instead of being an interesting add-on to our “real” work – will become a compelling necessity.
The reason? Since the success of change in one area of living is entirely bound up with change efforts in every other area, a hunkered down, narrow engagement with others – one, for example, that ignores strategies for individual change (if you are a social reformer) or efforts to route out social and economic injustice (if your mission is personal growth) – no makes sense. To the contrary, that approach is, by any reasonable reckoning, a pathway toward change that is partial, episodic, and evanescent; a lesson sadly confirmed by the fate of most every recent, reform movement.
In the final Reflection in this series, I discuss how this expanded view of collaboration would work in practice, using as an illustrative example the “ethics” – that is, the values – that inform the activities of our mainstream professions. In that Reflection, I will explain how:
- The culture’s predominant compete and win values have thoroughly infiltrated our professions’ ethical outlook, dictating ways of operating that, in line with the mainstream ways of operating, discussed above, are narrow and uncollaborative;
And, by way of contrast:
- The greatly expanded vision of collaboration that a fulsome embrace of Radical Decency’s 7 values dictates; a vision that, in its breadth and depth, is strikingly different from our taken-for-granted mainstream ways.