This is the last of three Reflections dealing with how to create mechanisms to better bring together the many reform-minded people, currently doing largely unconnected, issues-specific work; magnifying the efforts of each; creating, in this way, a more inclusive and effective movement for change.
My answer: Expanded and invigorated communal engagements and collaborative commitments, driven by a far more explicit recognition of the deeper, values-based unity of purpose that the best of these issues-specific initiatives share.
Reflection #89 offered a framework for expanding and deepening our communal commitments. Reflection #90 contrasted our current collaborative mindsets with the far more expansive framework that Radical Decency’s values dictate.
In this Reflection, I offer a vision for how these collaborative ideas might look in practice, using as an illustrative example the “ethics” – that is, the values – that inform the activities of our mainstream professions.
In my 40 plus years as a professional – attorney and social worker – most all of my “ethics” courses have worked to locate the point at which our normal ways of doing business cross an ethical line – and, then, how to stay on the “right side” of that line. But if you stop and think about, this approach makes no sense.
It is no different, really, than an attorney who asks his law partners to identify the minimum amount he needs to do to stay on the “right side” of the profitability line. Needless to say, the response of that attorney’s partners’ would be stunned disbelief:
“When it comes to profitability, you shouldn’t be looking for the minimal acceptable bar. To the contrary, your job, each and every day, is to find ways to expand your profitability in new and creative ways.”
So why are these two activities – profitability and ethics – viewed so differently? Because profitability fully aligns with the culture’s compete and win values while a fulsome embrace of ethics would inhibit them. And so, our ethical explorations are straightjacketed by these (unawares, but deeply engrained) assumptions, each designed to allow our mainstream values to operate without serious challenge:
- “Of course,” we should strive to make more and more money, limited by ethics only when these restraints are unavoidable; and
- “Of course,” self-protection should take precedence above everything else (except, possibly, profitability).
Limited in this way, our ethical explorations focus on the small-bore choices that survive in this narrow context.
- As “ethical” attorneys, are our fee arrangements and potential conflicts fully disclosed? And not: How can we eliminate the conflicts inherent in our standard cost-plus hourly billing rates?
- As “ethical” social workers, have we avoided dual relationships – attendance at a client’s family funeral, $20 so he can eat dinner, a hug? And not: Is this the decent thing to do? Is it a manageable risk that might help our client and, potentially, strengthen the therapeutic relationship?
Notice, importantly, how this limited view of ethics keeps us consigned within our separate areas of expertise. The intricacies of the disclosures in an attorney’s engagement letter – to make a lucrative new client’s “knowing waiver” of conflicts with an existing client possible – will be of no interest to a psychotherapist. And conversely, an attorney will have no interest in a detailed discussion about how a psychotherapist can artfully deflect a client’s question about his personal life.
However, when Radical Decency’s 7 values – respect, understanding and empathy, acceptance and appreciation, fairness and justice – are the focus of our ethical aspirations, and are pursued with the same expansive zeal with which we now pursue profitability and safety, everything is different.
Our professionals will now be focused on the wisdom-stretching task of being decent to others and the world, even as they seek to create and maintain a profitable economic entity (decency to self). The result? They will be impelled to grapple with issues that, in contrast to the small bore issues described above, go to heart of what it truly means to be a values-based professional:
- Do my services and products speak to my clients’ interests, broadly defined. Am I offering a quality product that, at the same time, does not compromise their broader economic, emotional, physical, and aspirational life interests?
- Are my pricing policies fair and transparent – and, to the extent reasonably possible, aligned with my clients’ economic interests?
- Do my sales/marketing strategies honestly represent my capabilities?
- Does the institution of which I am a part avoid the ever-present temptation to over compensate those at the top, unreasonably compromising in this way the wages and benefits offered to lower level employees?
- Is our institution’s work environment reasonably accommodating to the larger life goals of employees at every level (ownership included)?
- Have we created – and are we maintaining – an institutional culture in which decency’s 7 values are the taken for granted norm, informing our interactions not just with co-workers, but also with clients, vendors, competitors, and the public at large?
- Are we contributing to the communities of which they are a part in ways that, given our financial capability and technical skills, make us responsible partners in the larger effort to create a more decent and humane world?
Note, moreover, that one of the key lessons of Radical Decency is that seeking to segregate and compartmentalize our work and personal lives is a failed strategy. Who we are at work deeply bleeds into and affects who we are at home (and vice versa). For this reason, a priority focus on Radical Decency will deeply inform the choices our hypothetical professionals will make in their private lives as well:
- Am I interacting with family, friends and others in ways that reflect decency’s 7 values?
- Am I investing an appropriate amount of personal time, expertise, and money in the communities of which I am a part?
- Am I finding adequate time to be with those I love, and for rest, play, and the pursuit of my private passions?
With this shift in perspective – from compete and win to decency – what, then, of our instinct to collaborate with one another?
Here, too, every thing would be different.
Needless to say, the values-based issues, listed above, are not the specialized concern of lawyers and social workers. To the contrary, when Radical Decency supplants compete and win as our motivating mindset, these same (or entirely analogous) issues will also be the pre-occupying focus of academics, journalists, people with religious vocations, reform-minded workers and business people and, indeed, anyone else intent on making decency their priority pursuit
Moreover, operationalizing Radical Decency’s complex and, at times, seemingly inconsistent goals – e.g. how to be decent to others and the world, even as I maintain decency to self – will continually perplex and challenge their wisdom. For this reason, they will feel impelled to reach out to people with knowledge and experience in areas where theirs falls short. Indeed, the need to make these choices with increasing focus and persistent, will become self-evidently necessary – if, that is, they we hope to make the many creative, “outside the mainstream” choices that their vocation of decency demands.
Business people will reach out and thoroughly involve themselves in the initiatives of mission driven activists knowing that, with their years of thought and practice, these people are their indispensible teachers when is come to translating communal responsibilities into action. And, on their side, mission-driven people will be eager students of the many decency-minded business people who know so much about raising capital, generating income, and organizing large numbers of people in pursuit of a common goal; vitally important skills if they hope to bring their mission driven initiatives up to a scale that can truly make a difference.
Think also about the wide variety of people offering creative ways of inhabiting our minds, bodies, and hearts, and interacting with one another. Some of these people are healers, coaches, and consultants. Others are spiritual people, both traditional and nontraditional. Still others are artists and performers.
Values-based people with these vocations have a lot to teach us about being more decent to ourselves, others, and the world including, importantly, in the visual, energetic and kinesthetic areas that exist beyond the logical/verbal modalities so dominant in the mainstream culture. Our commitment to across-the-board decency will impel us to more fully understand and incorporate the wisdom and life changing possibilities, offered by these people, into our more mainstream ways of operating – even as our more mainstream interests and skills inform theirs.
And, the areas of extended collaboration will go far beyond these examples. Indeed, with decency is our informing motive, the list of now, self-evidently important initiatives, involving other, equally committed people with diverse interests and skills, would be endless:
- Fully committed to dealing with quality of life issues, business owners and operators would heavily involve ministers, psychotherapists, and health and fitness experts in their priority setting and day-by-day choices;
- Radically decent organizational leaders from every sector would seek out those special people who, without regard to their area of activity, have developed – and sustained, over time – more decent and nourishing organizational environments;
- Recognizing the dismal state of their profession, decency-committed mainstream media people would work closely with the many people – academics, therapists, and so on – who have spent years understanding and teaching communication techniques that foster respect, authenticity and mutuality;
- Accountants and financial people with a decency priority would be indispensible allies in crafting fair, transparent and equitable wage and product pricing strategies – as well as new standard metrics that, instead of measuring profitability and nothing more, contextualize bottom line concerns within broader decency-measuring metrics;
- And so, on and on . . . .
Still another aspect of this expanded collaborative vision would be an end to the unspoken assumption that the values/ethics that inform our work lives are to be determined only by people within our profession or specialized area of activity; thus, the complete absence from every ethics course I have ever taken, as a lawyer or social worker, of clients or members of the general public.
We would no longer huddle up as lawyers, accountants, business people, academics, and so on, assuming that we know what is best when it comes to our professional ethics. To the contrary, seeking to do justice to the endless challenges inherent being decent to self, others, and the world, our deliberations would thoroughly involve representatives from every sector of the public, materially impacted by our activities.
Finally – and crucially – we need to remember that a re-invigorated network of communities, more fully aligned with decency’s 7 values, is an essential building block in our efforts to create a more decent world. See Reflection #89, A Call to Action, Part 1: Community. For this reason, our expanded collaborative vision needs to go beyond our individual choices and be translated, as well, into initiatives that bring our diverse communities into this ever-deepening web of collaborative connections.
Like so many other decency-driven scenarios that I have spun out in the Reflections, there is a natural tendency to step back and ask this question: What is the likelihood that this can really happen? And I have to concede that, here too, it is hard to imagine how we get from here to there, given the state of the world in which we live.
But we need to remember, always, that every pathway to meaningful change is a long shot. And, the value-based approach I promote does have a compelling logic that speaks to its potential effectiveness:
Radical Decency is not just the right thing to do. Without regard to ultimate outcomes in the larger world, it is also a far more vital and plausible pathway toward a nourishing, spirit-affirming life than any that is offered by our heedless pursuit of compete and win, dominate and control.
So, remembering that the future is inherently uncertain – for better or for worse – what better way to spend our days?