Well - this past few months has surely provided a window into issues we didn't even know we had as a nation! Half the country favors an authoritarian style of leadership that isn't a great fit for democracy and more than half want change.
As a lover of change with some expertise in organizational change I can tell you that I've been fighting the false understanding of change (rearranging the chairs on the Titanic) for over 20 years. Doing different things differently - while more effective, is rarely the first choice.
We want change, but we want a change we are comfortable with. We want OTHERS to change - we are fine! We want things to change but we don't want to experience any discomfort. If you don't believe this - let's try a little experiment. You are going to have to DO this. Please cross your arms. I'm waiting....... Now cross them the other way. How does that feel? Did you find you had to think about what you were doing the second time? How long did you keep them crossed the second time? See?
I recently read an article written by a women who had spent many years in Appalachia working with the people there. She said some interesting things. One thing she said was that so many of the people there had had a hard time most of their life. They had never experienced any real success. They constantly tried to make things better, but with small success. The consequences of that consistent experiences were feelings of low self-worth (no one cared), and a disillusion that improvement was really possible.
If we apply that to the recent elections, could the same kind of situation and consequently world view apply? Many people who used to be 'middle class' have seen their jobs and career opportunities disappear. In many families both husband and wife work so time together, time with the kids is almost non-existent. In some families people work two or even three jobs and still they can't make ends meet. These are people who are trying, but still can't seem to create the kind of improvement they desire.
Maybe these people want change. Rearranging the deck chairs is just fine - after all success has eluded them, so why should this attempt be different? Wanting 'change' this much and not really believing in it at the same time might, just might, prompt people to take a risk - to place their bet on an unlikely source - just to see what might happen. Surprise.... Trump!
So now we are here. The real question, and the potential silver lining, is what do we do now? Things WILL be different, and even uncomfortable for some time. What will be our response to the anger, frustration and fear? Our response will determine our future. When things are destroyed there is an opportunity to rebuild. What will we reclaim? What will we create new?
I went to see Spy with a friend the other day. This is not a movie I’d have chosen and truthfully, I knew very little about it, but I loved it! It was funny and clever and it was a very nice model of pushing women forward. The language, however, was full of F bombs. Now that sort of fit the content, but both my friend and I felt the need to comment on the rather excessive use of that word. I, for one, have always wondered why an act that gives such pleasure would be used to show such disrespect.
Sharon Ellison, in her book Taking the War Out Of Our Words: The art of powerful non-defensive communication gives example after example of how we seek to hide and ‘protect’ ourselves through our choice of words. She demonstrates how our choices of words (tone and body language too) can cause lasting harm, prevent us from achieving what we say we want, and put us on a path of no return as we engage in power struggles instead of co-creation. Words matter!
So many young people use ‘bad’ words to make a statement about their ‘freedom’ and ‘adulthood’. They use the constant stream of epithets to declare that they are big, bad and powerful, at a time when all of those things are up for grabs. I remember doing just that at a certain time in my life. I stopped because I didn’t want people to think of me the same way as I thought about people who used foul language. I also sensed the weakness inherent in using language to demonstrate power when real confidence was lacking. After all, if I was really big, bad and powerful why would I need to use slang and cursing to prove it?
Relationships and Words
Martin Buber in his book, I and Thou, held a rich discussion on the damage of using ‘it’. He described how distancing that word is in relationships. The word ‘it’ objectifies the world and makes everything an ‘other,’ an other that is less than, one that can be/should be ‘managed.’ Robin Wall Kimmerer of the Anishinaabe tribe makes that same point in a more lyrical and heartfelt way in her article, Alternative Grammar: A new language of kinship in the 2015 spring issue of Yes! Her solution, however, is one I find thrilling and very clever. There is no word for the ‘other’ that is relationship-based, in the English language. We need another word to replace ‘it,’ she writes. Her choice is ‘ki’ to refer to living things. Her example, “Oh, that beautiful tree, ki is giving us sap again this spring.” Makes me feel warm and close to the tree. For me the difference is profound – and that’s the point!
Words Impact Climate Change
We ask ourselves what we can do to end global warming and climate change, but language is not the first place we look. Yet we will not make this shift without changing our relationship to the natural world and a good first place to start would be language. I challenge you to take this up in your own life. Replace ‘it’ with ‘ki’ – the plural is ‘kin,’ her example, “Look kin are flying south for the winter, come back soon.” (nice or what?) in your own speech. By doing this you will do a number of things. You will become a warrior for the Earth as you risk the taunting of your friends; you will engage yourself in your own reframing and in a rebuilding of your own awareness of your relationship with life; you will become a bright light – showing the way into the future; and, you will become a model for the kind of deep and lasting change we need to make – as a people – to ensure that we can live on this dear Earth for generations to come.
If you find this small task too daunting, then ask yourself how likely is it others will make the changes you see they need to make? Look into your own commitment and see what it lacks to make the difference that needs to be made. Listen to your own rationalizations about how this is ‘not important,’ too small to make and ‘real’ difference, or what other ‘reason’ you give yourself to not take this very small step.
Climate change requires behavior change, but we won’t change our behavior if WE don’t change our behavior. We gripe about changing light bulbs, about using alternative – anything, and we have ‘real’ and easy excuses about why our actions won’t make an impact, so we can justify our own reluctance to change. At the same time we desperately hope that someone else will make those changes, that someone else will do what must be done, that someone else will save us.
Change your language and change your relationship with all the other beings on the planet. If we can change that, then changing our actions will be a piece of cake. We will find it offensive to do harm to what we love. We will find it outrageous to kill a tree to make a parking lot. We will reduce our own water use so that fish and wildlife may live, as see that action as an obvious one. The first value of the sustainable Values Set is: All actions create the conditions that support Life. Our language should reflect that!
I’ve been spending some time recently, ruminating on control. This is a subject I’ve been engaged with since 1995, when I developed my Control, Power, and Strategy workshop. Albert Einstein said, “We can’t solve our problems at the same level of consciousness that created them." And there is no area where that is more true than control.
Control is a relic of past times. Of a time when fear reigned and the only antidote appeared to be control. We, as a species, felt at the mercy of the weather, of animals and even other people, so taking control seemed like the most natural thing to do. Ah, but what, exactly, did we control? Certainly not the weather and only occasionally were we able to control animals or other people, yet the myth of control persists. In fact we have spent the past many hundreds of years working diligently to control nature and other people. We have failed miserably at both.
Control as Power Over
We have succeeded at changing some of our experience with nature by damming rivers, cultivating crops, and building better houses, but the myth of control has really been about protection, we really haven’t changed Mother Nature. Have we had a better experience in controlling other people? We have learned how to make people obedient, at least for a time, through fear. The ‘might makes right’ approach has been applied to everyone from our children to people of other races and other lands. We have threatened, beaten, and incarcerated millions of people and achieved some temporary respite from their threatening behavior, but it just doesn’t seem to last. It appears we’ve protected ourselves, but not really made any real changes in people’s beliefs, desires, or even long-term behavior.
From a systems thinking point of view, control is always imposed from outside the system. It is done to – someone or some thing. That is why it is never permanent or ultimately very satisfactory. It offers temporary relief and protection from uncomfortable situations, but the consequences can be unpredictable (climate change), even horrific (political uprisings), and unwanted (death of salmon because of warm water or blocked spawning grounds or ruptured personal relationships).
We are not skilled in making the changes we seek. Our need for comfort has resulted in our habitual stepping out of the system to act on it, which makes immediate relief possible, but often adversely impacts long-term success. Control often looks like punishment, instead of a request for consideration or help.
Control, Values and Culture
It is interesting to look at how control manifests in the three value systems: protection, effectiveness and sustainability. In the Protective Value Set™, the point of view is one of ‘us versus them’ so control is exercised on ‘us’ (loyalty, obedience, vengeance) so we can depend upon each other as we try and protect ourselves from ‘them.’ In the Effective Value Set™ control is exerted toward clear communication (not using force, contracts, honesty) so that the responsibility for success is shared. In the Sustainable Values Set® control is focused on relationship (right relationship, all actions create the conditions that support life, keeping the integrity of the whole). The locus of control shifts from me to us to we. With each iteration we become more integral to the system and more aware of our impact upon it.
The same progression holds true when you look at corporate culture. The Three cultures: Command and Control, Collaborative, and Co-Creative shift in a similar way from ‘me’ (my way), to ‘us’, but the Co-Creative culture can get high-jacked back into ‘me’ if there is not a shared purpose that underscores the ‘we’. The three Value Sets support the various cultures, but the Sustainable Values Set® offers the vision that ensure the Co-Creative culture moves into ’we’. This is one of the strategic strengths of becoming a zero waste and rigorous company. The need for every to participate is also why the need to control processes shifts from controlling people to people engaging in self-discipline.
Control and Discipline
Discipline is how conscious parts of the system maintain control from within the system. Discipline is expressed in each of the three cultures and value systems a bit differently: in the Protective Value Set™ and the Command and Control culture people discipline themselves because of their commitment and loyalty to the leader; in the Effective Value Set™ and the Collaborative culture it is the desire to maintain productive relationships that provides the desire for self-discipline; where in the Co-Creative culture and the Sustainable Value Set® it is the commitment to something greater that makes self-discipline seem worthwhile.
The need for protection is inherently separated from the system, but the desire to co-create is inherently an inside the system position. Changing the system to meet our individual needs is inherently temporary, time consuming and expensive. Co-creating using the dynamics inherent in the system, is more likely permanent, becomes part of our lifestyle or time is not an issue, and is even more economical in the long-run, yet it appears slower to start and feels like a distraction from the immediate release sought from the presenting irritation. Like any journey we have to learn to raise our sights from the excitement of the journey to a focus on long-term success if we want to avoid the unintended consequences inherent in a short-term point of view.
When we control ourselves – our own emotions, thoughts and actions, instead of trying to control the ‘other’ the whole world changes from one of danger to one of interest, from one of protection to one of learning and from a place where we are victims to a place where we are co-creators of the future. Which place would you prefer to live in?
Kathryn Alexander, MA: futurist, speaker, author coach, her systems thinking approach to values and ethics enables deep change by impactful leaders.