This is part one of a series that’s not yet ready for prime time. With seventeen more in Florida gone, a pandemic of high-level harassment allegations already faded into old news, the steady drum beat of too-young people committing suicide (yes, any age is tragic) and a general increase in social-emotional problems …if not now, when?
We have plenty of thing-related problems in this world, and plenty of opportunities to get involved. We can’t ignore homelessness, hunger and poverty, environment and conservation, class warfare, income inequality, runaway capitalism without conscience, immigration and the refugee crisis, the need for political reform and on and on. “Thing” issues must certainly be addressed and while I’m deeply concerned about them, social reform and social-emotional problems have the much-needed spotlight here. We can each impact people problems more than we can world hunger. And well-adjusted, more aware people are more likely to get involved and not allow those things to continue. The only logical priority order with a shot at sustainability, for a capitalist system: people > planet > profit. (ref. Michael Porter’s shared value / triple bottom line)
Hypothesis: we must focus on the 3-P front end: human dynamics. Searching frames the more significant human issues. Later we’ll look at what we may do to at least partially address the issues. Searching includes personal reflections and experiences that drive my commitment to impact the human condition. Maybe sharing my feelings may trigger similar powerful emotions in others, and commitment to take action. It is truly a survival issue to at least slow down this inside-out decay.
The Human Condition
It’s depressing but necessary to call attention to our human shortcomings. They are collectively overwhelming–we’re a mess. But we must more fully understand them. The issues have common roots; they’re one giant Gordian knot. So if we wield the right sword with the right concentrated effort we can slice the knot into pieces. Focus and effort…that’s “all” we need. OK, maybe that’s a little understated….
Here are my thoughts on the Short List of actionable pressing human issues. Add / comment, please!
- General disregard for others, diminished appreciation of life, disrespect for the sanctity of others;
- Bullying, which grows into harassment. Reference the outbreak of high-profile sexual allegations;
- Skyrocketing stress, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, suicide even among the tragically young;
- Open and deep hatred and bigotry, ___(insert-your-favorite-“o”)___ phobia, rabid nationalism;
- Inability to have civil, well-informed discussion of emotionally charged topics. Due in part to…
- Political, social, values-driven polarization leading to indecision, inaction, violence.
Our social, moral, ethical fabric is being torn to shreds, society is imploding. We’ve disconnected from our selves, each other, our environment, our basic human values. We’ve lost our humanity. We’re emotionally confused, socially isolated, ethically directionless. There’s apathy and disengagement at one extreme, and over-engagement, stress and burnout at the other. Both lead to physical health issues and emotional and social baggage. We desperately need realignment and emotional healing.
We’re teetering on the edge of self-destruction, in a full-tilt figure-8 demolition derby between (1) “thing” issues–nukes, climate change, famine, epidemics, environmental rape and pillage and (2) a terminal case of Lost Mojo—human dynamics issues. Some starter mojo must-do’s:
- Fully understand and embrace the importance of social-emotional well-being on achievement (getting stuff done) and personal satisfaction, and impacts on physical health and longevity;
- Reconnect with what it means to be human, on the “me” level and especially with others;
- Rediscover the lost art of mindful, meaningful interaction, of civilly working things out;
- Commit to a compelling shared vision and a mission with collective meaning;
- Leverage whole-person development to begin repairs on the deep damage to our mojo.
Here’s a radical social sci-fi epiphany: what if the right values, goals and actions were shared community-wide among education, employers and organizations, community members and even (gasp!) politicians? If an entire community focused its efforts with all stakeholders on the same page, synergy, reciprocation, constant reinforcement would kick in. The broader the ownership and collaboration, the greater the sustainable impact. With a big enough lever, we can move the world.
Movement Starts With Me
Humans are naturally purpose-driven, always in search of a deeper meaning. Any movement, any group, needs an identity, or it’s just a bunch of people doing stuff with no direction, no meaning, no goals. We need a Mojo Movement, and we need more than a few Facebook groups. But what is our narrative—brand, identity? What is our sales pitch, our elevator speech? Movements have four essentials:
- A compelling vision of the desired future, and shared values to guide actions;
- An achievable mission with relevant and clear objectives;
- An Action Plan with specific ownership and accountability;
- Critical mass: an army of committed do-ers marching in unison under one banner.
Vision and Values are the glue that holds a movement together, only if they are SHARED and strong enough will they become the movement’s purpose and universally accepted behavioral norms. Mission and objectives help provide definition and direction. Action Plans provide much-needed accountability, milestones, to-do’s and the right metrics to assess real-time progress. The whole thing has to be compelling enough that people want to own a piece of it.
My personal WIIFM is strong, and I am driven to be part of making those four things a reality. We’re all in this together but It Starts With Me.
My WIIFM Evolution
I came of age in the Woodstock Generation–a magical time when we had lots of bona fide causes to embrace. I graduated from the University of Iowa, not a Columbia or a Berkeley but still a hotbed of awareness and activism. My degree was heavy on upper level humanities by design; it was the only way to avoid what I felt would be the ultimate indignity of stuffing a suit the rest of my life. The degree didn’t matter anyway, after graduating I was predestined to follow a road musician’s life.
But at the height of my music career, I lost a good friend and bandmate to narcotics addiction. I felt it wasn’t my place to meddle, but thirty years later I still carry the heavy weight of being an enabler. Things were pretty much on a downhill slide after that-my heart wasn’t in it any more. Finally, in 1987 I slammed headlong with finality into the rock & roll burn-out wall. Too Old! I got out gracefully, got married, instant family, instant responsibilities. Since there’s no better experience for dealing with people issues, I hit the private sector as a human behavior guru: engagement, motivation theory, interpersonal and group dynamics, etc. The highly creative, theoretical work suited me well. But while close relationships that came with my informal counselor role were high reward, they were high risk too. I lost a co-worker friend to depression-triggered suicide and survivor syndrome kicked my butt. Again. I had been an enabler. Again. It still hurts because I could have done more. Again. No more.
When I lost my job to a business reorg, as an ex-performer and facilitator of adult development and continuous improvement workshops, it was natural to go into teaching. I was immediately hooked on education improvement and alternative education, especially radical unschooling. The last few years my horizons have expanded into environmental, social and political battles and I connected with the new generation of activists. Kid in a candy store. It was clear something powerful was taking shape. The prodigal radical Big Thinker had wandered home. My first Big Thought was that we need to Think Big….
Vision, Purpose, Values, Community…Who Needs That Stuff?
What’s all the fuss about? Who needs it? We do! We need a visionary and ethical compass, we need compassion, we need to be part of a community that cares. But we don’t know where we’re going, and no one seems to have the ability to collectively get us back on track. Identity, community, principles and values, purpose and meaning are among the most powerful universal human drivers, right up there with love, compassion, the need to contribute to something meaningful. We’ve lost touch with those things, which has a lot to do with why society is self-destructing.
Ex white supremacist Christian Picciolini, author of ‘Romantic Violence: Memoirs of an American Skinhead’ notes that people are much more likely to join gangs or fringe groups when they have no other source of identity, community, meaning or purpose. Christian’s thoughts are echoes by an Iraqi friend, an anti-terrorism expert, who noted that when identity, purpose and values are lacking, ISIS can fill the empty spot, explaining why ISIS can be so appealing to disenfranchised youth.
Was it the same for people buying into Hitler’s delusion? Is the same thing in play for our current phobias and nationalism? I swore I wouldn’t get political. But if the shoe fits…
And yes, I’ve been told I run with a scary crowd. Ex skinheads, terrorism experts…and odd man out, me.
Too Close to Home
It’s been a long evolution. Along the way *poof* somehow I turned into a grandfather. And all my concerns finally came to a head. Our kids are in trouble, they’re killing themselves and each other. A beautiful child in my home town took her own life, a short time later my grand daughter’s 7th grade classmate committed suicide. She was crushed, I had him in classes. Real-time thoughts on losing Sean:
I’ve written too many times already about youth suicide and bullying. It’s something I care deeply about, and I keep hoping to find a way to make an impact. But they’re always far away kids I didn’t really know. Far-off observers are sufficiently sad for an appropriate time, then we move on. I’ll admit that’s been me at times. You get numb. Newtown has even gotten blurry and I swore I wouldn’t let that happen.
Young people’s emotional stability in our small community appeared to be in good shape. But I’ll be in a class room tomorrow where there will be one crushingly empty desk. Knowing why it’s empty is really gonna hurt. Suicide at any age is a terrible tragedy, but this young, this close to home is unbearable.
The same transient blip of caring, the same outpouring of thoughts and prayers magically appear every time we have yet another mass murder at a school. But they go away. Until next time.
My awareness hit a painful growth spurt. Out of control depression, anxiety, stress impacting kids, teens and adults alike. Death by Lifestyle. Killing ourselves and each other, both slowly and traumatically.
On your next trip to the store do a little people-watching. You’ll see good people soured on life, hopelessness and pain in their eyes or worse, nothing. Spirit drained, their demeanor screaming “I’m tired of this life!” Forgotten dreams, no purpose, no meaning, no fulfillment? Still, we keep isolating our Selves further from others and from being human, starting with how we raise and “teach” children into adulthood, and the nature of work, the meaning of “success”. We’re in a constant struggle with our core human values, we’re denying our humanness. We self-inflict pain and do irreversible harm to others too. We floor it, stretching to hit 130mph in a broken down Yugo. And we wonder why we’re stressed out, miserable, killing our Selves physically and emotionally.
Along with this increased awareness of the human condition, my native heritage is coming to life again too. As inhuman as it is, we’ve disconnected from our Earth Mother. We rape and poison her without a thought, her tolerance has been stretched way beyond capacity by her children. We’re poisoning our only home and ourselves too. Somehow, Mother hasn’t given up on her children….yet.
We’re doing things all wrong. But we can change. Or is this a koolaid buzz? I think not (hic).
I’m just a human being trying to make it in a world that is very rapidly losing its understanding of being human. John Trudell, Native American author, poet, actor, musician (RIP)
For Brielle (real-time reflection March 15, 2016, excerpted from “Kids’ Epiphany”)
A sweet 14 year old girl took her own life last week in my home town. This tribute was published, with Brielle’s picture: “… due to bullying and depression. Although I do not personally know her, this affects me greatly as it should any parent. She could be my child, she could be your child. She had a loving family and extended family. But, her grief from being bullied was just too strong. Words hurt. Actions hurt. Let’s all stand up for our children when enough is enough. Brielle was an organ donor and her heart went to a 10 year old little girl. What a precious gift she gave to others.”
Brielle was beautiful. She had the warmest, most genuine smile. Even in her picture, you can see the glow and spark in her eyes. You knew this young lady was a good person, and that she was so full of life. Snuffed out at fourteen. Why? I didn’t know Brielle, but her death hit me. Hard. Then Sean.
Too many kids carry around unreal baggage, some of adult origin, some peer-created. In either case, it takes a lot of time and effort and pain to break an innocent child’s spirit. Why aren’t we on high alert, why can’t we see and accept our immense responsibility? Nothing is more important. Why we don’t take our stewardship of their fragile spirits seriously is a tragedy, an unforgivable sin.
Our kids’ safety and a lifetime’s worth of emotional well-being, even their lives, are at risk. I’m in small-town Iowa. We’re laid back, pretty well-grounded. Too many young people are committing suicide. One is too many, and we’re way beyond one. It’s overwhelming, can’t allow it to become numbing.
From The Activist’s Survival Manual: Pebbles Project
I’d love to change the world, but I don’t know what to do.
So I’ll leave it up to you. (Alvin Lee and Ten Years After, 1970)
I’m 64 and I’m still searching for the right way to make a meaningful contribution toward saving the world. My long-time prime directive: you must tend to people issues and needs, or you won’t stand a chance of effectively resolving “thing” problems. But oh, those people issues—lots to do. We’re a mess.
The One Pond, One Pebble principle is a survival tactic that first emerged out of the frustration of not making enough progress on saving the world. Lesson learned: if you can’t budge a boulder much less heave it in the ocean, you gain nothing but pain and frustration. It’s all about fully utilizing capabilities by right-sizing, right focus and pebbles. I looked at my spheres of influence where I had a little realistic credibility. I right-sized my efforts by assessing feasibility and impact, then started dropping the right little pebbles into the right ponds one at a time, making them count.
Even little pebbles can make an impressive disturbance on a pond’s mirror surface. As the ripples spread outward, you lose track of their journey. It’s not supposed to be an ego thing anyway. You “know” your ripples may be traveling great distances, probably washing over other people who may or may not be influenced to drop their own pebbles into their own ponds where they may have an impact.
It Starts With Me—one pond, one pebble within my circle of influence and credibility. Tiny ripples from my pebbles will eventually join up and overlap with ripples from others until the smooth surface of the pond is in constant motion, unrecognizable compared to the mirrored surface it once was. Who knows how far the ripples will go, how many other pebbles will be dropped in other ponds by other people?
That’s the real rush of this influence thing. You just don’t know. We each have an arsenal of pebbles at our disposal once we become more aware of our capability and capacity, and we assess the feasibility and impact of alternative actions. Then it’s one pebble at a time dropped into one pond, and we can only trust that we are truly making a meaningful difference.
Norms, values, high engagement, and social-emotional well-being are all contagious for better or for worse, spread by close association. You catch the virus from others just as you can be a carrier yourself who can infect others. Groups, organizations, even society are as susceptible to the virus as individuals.
If I’m highly engaged at work, I’m likely to also be engaged at home and in my community. My ripples wash over others, even unknown people. The virus starts with my one pebble rippling one pond. The outbreak of pebble-dropping by those I infect and their resulting ripples gain momentum and speed.
No immunity, no known antidote. My kind of pandemic!
We’re unknowingly coerced into recklessly pursuing more and more “things” at any cost, while we juggle the demands of an endless list of urgent to-do’s. We’ve forgotten what it means to be human, paying a high price. When values and norms die problems crop up—unethical / illegal behavior, a myriad list of significant social issues, rudeness and other variations of treating each other like crap.
Example: bullying, a.k.a. harassment, is a systemic social issue that needs systemic action. There isn’t that much difference between kids’ and adults’ bully behavior. So, why not learn from and with each other? Why not all community stakeholders learning the same principles together, setting the same behavioral expectations, then holding each others’ feet to the fire?
Humans are by nature caring, compassionate, social / tribal. Bad behaviors are learned, and our toxic lifestyle and sick society are artificial creations; they are unnatural and incredibly destructive;
Kids (big people too!) need to know they matter, that they make a difference in the world. People need purpose, vision, values and a community built on caring and compassion. We suck at that;
Purpose, meaning, values, ethics cannot be legislated or otherwise mandated. All we can do is provide opportunities for self-discovery;
So, where to start restoring our humanity? With young people? There’s plenty of rework to do with big kids too. Focus on kids in school, or adults in the workplace? The family unit? One community at a time? Society? Short answer….”Yes, all”. We’re in this together, we need the same attention at the same time;
Issues and deep ideological differences have polarized us. Misleading and dis-information have us paralyzed. Combine the two=rabid advocacy of issues / ideologies with positions supported by poor information. Who and what do you believe, who and what do you trust? No wonder we’re at each others’ throats;
Education is adopting team-based learning, the workplace has wrestled with it for years. Kids of all ages need to be able to work together and to have meaningful dialogue. People prefer the familiar, shun the weird. Human behavior education would be more safely titled “teaming skills and group decision making training.” Much more acceptable to the mainstream, accomplishes the same thing.
If there was a magical intervention, it shouldn’t call out bullying, harassment or suicide prevention. Those are all negative outcomes, all in the past. Dwelling on the negative may be counter-productive: when presented with both options, humans obsess over problems before opportunities. So, no deviant or extremes. Focus instead on discovering the good in humans, the stuff that we crave. The goals and outcomes that should drive us are well-being, happiness, satisfaction with the right modern lifestyle, surviving and even thriving in the jungle.
There are plenty of social-emotional learning approaches out there. What is the best way to get the right stuff introduced where it needs to be? We need to reach more than just young people. How?
There’s a huge need for humanity to get back in touch with itself, for us to reconnect with each other as human beings, up-close and personal…and to get back in touch with our individual spiritual selves. Technology numbs us. We’re desensitized, incapable of caring or compassion. We’re calculating, callous, cold. Humans are tribal, social creatures. We need community, we need each other. And the further we scratch and claw ourselves up the techno ladder the further we backslide down the social evolutionary ladder. Most of the animal world shows more compassion than we do, even toward other species.
We all need people with common purpose, to live our lives with others who share the same core human values.
Stupid me, this is my chosen mission and I could sure use some advice on right-sizing this effort and setting smart goals. Also, a few visionaries to put their behinds into that big old lever we need to move this world back into a sane and sustainable orbit.
For Brielle Christina April 25, 2001 – March 9, 2016.
And for Sean and the other Lost Kids, and for the Lost Adults too.