In Politics

Understanding It

Our political reform efforts aren’t working.

Across the last 50 years, without regard to who wins the latest “make or break” election or what bills are passed, we continue to subsidize oil, defense and other politically influential industries – and a seemingly endless list of “Bridges to Nowhere” – even as incivility, inequity, and indifference to suffering persist and expand. Meanwhile, many of the most important policy changes seem to “just happen” with little or no debate at all: An historic increase in consumer debt; an exponential growth in prisons and, with it, of people of color in those prisons; new technologies that allow politicians and businesses to probe our lives and manipulate our choices in hitherto unthinkable ways.


Current social reform efforts matter – a lot – vitally affecting the lives of millions. But as important as these efforts are, they tend, overwhelmingly, to focus on symptoms only: Discrimination – or poverty – or regulatory reform. And what is the underlying disease that is being marginalized and ignored? A bi-partisan consensus that makes prosperity the only real priority and sees competition – and the domination and control of resources, both physical and human – as the only realistic means to attain it. Failing to directly challenge this fundamentally amoral consensus, our reform efforts are unlikely to make a meaningful dent in the indecencies that riddle our world.

The response.

Political reform needs to start with the systematic cultivation of a new, more humane set of values: Radical Decency. With this new orientation, a lively interest in wealth creation would not end. But it would no longer operate without restraint. Instead, it would be clearly subordinate to, and in the service of, the larger goal of a more humane, just and equitable world.

How it looks in practice.

Social reformers would continue their work. But even as they fight for better schools or environmental reform, they would work closely with people seeking change in others areas, with the unifying goal being a progressive shift toward a politics – and a society – in which decency to self, others and the world is the new norm. Meanwhile, those of us with “regular” jobs would seek to infuse these same values into our workplaces, and our churches, synagogues and other communal institutions. These vitalized institutions would, then, look for new ways to actively support and collaborate with our social activists, coalescing into a unified and far more effective movement for change.

For a fuller description of this aspect of Radical Decency read:
Reflection 49: Politics – Systems Analysis, Values Solution
Reflection 45: Re-visioning Social Change Work
Reflection 15: Transforming Business – Values Based Social Justice

See also:
Reflection 20: Social Justice – The Third Rail of Radical Decency
Reflection 12: Radical Decency in Politics – Pitfalls and Possibilities
Reflection 2: Why Republicans Win
Reflection 55: Be Decent to Hitler?

Living It

Seeking to be radically decent, the devil – always – is in the detail; the day by day, moment by moment choices that define our lives. It is an aspirational journey and not a destination.

To support your politically-related Radical Decency work — and the work of others — we encourage you to participate in our ongoing Radical Decency in Politics conversation.

Here are some stories about how this journey has unfolded for others: Ways in which they have come through; lessons learned when they have fallen short. Sharing a story from your experience supports your work and the work of others. Email us if you are interested in sharing a politically related story.

(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…

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(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,…

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(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…

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