Challenge Paradigms! Ask, “What do WE want?”


A few days ago, I listened to remarks made by University of Denver political scientist, Erica Chenoweth.  She provided research and conclusions about the worldwide and homegrown movement away from democratic social organization to authoritarian social organization.  Among the findings she presented was that constitutional mechanisms have failed to prevent the onset of authoritarianism. Professor Chenoweth goes on to make the case that non-violent civil disobedience and civil demonstrations have successfully thwarted authoritarian rule. (

For many, I know that this is not what we want to hear…at least the part about how our constitutional mechanisms will not protect us from authoritarian rule.

I find Professor Chenoweth’s remarks liberating.

I don’t know about you, but I grow tired of reading about all of the ills in the Trump administration with no real alternatives being promulgated.  Worse, I am absolutely tired of hearing about “redlines” that Trump had better not cross, or else?  Or else what?

This kind of talk is very disempowering.

In just one year, we have seen a steady march away from environmental, labor, and  land use protection.   Wages remain stagnant, well-paid, benefited careers are out of reach.  A so-called “tax reform” law has been passed which intentionally will create more and more obstacles to safety and security.

The conclusions which Professor Chenoweth provide are  a great challenge for us to think way out of the box.

In our increasingly diverse society, there are built-in triggers that keep people apart. There are also built-in triggers that deepen a sense of grievance as incomes remain stagnant, net worth for most remains close to non-existent, and a combination of increasing automation, global competition for goods and services, and little to no existence of collective voice makes people feel completely vulnerable for the future of their children.

Grievance does not create a healthy and cohesive movement.  Grievance breeds anger. We have had  anger aplenty now for many decades with no success of solving the grievances.

Mistrust coupled with a culture of grievance is  a state that we have been living in for a very long time.

We need movements that must unify.

We need movements that seek out root causes to our collective sense of grief and despair.  Continuous civil protest must go on.  However, that civil protest should have themes and activity that can be practiced and woven into the fabric of a new vision for the nation.

Paolo Freire observed the root causes of illiteracy in Brazil and other poor countries in the mid-20th century.  He did not see illiteracy  in isolation, as only a condition to be solved; rather, he saw it as a means to what he called conscientization.  The motivation to become literate is more important for a literacy program to be successful than the teaching of literacy.  Successful literacy movements are based on the reason to be literate.  For Freire, literacy is central for people to change their social reality.  But first, they must understand that social reality and why it must change.

At least one old paradigm that ought to be challenged is the lack of democracy in our workplaces.  Some workplaces have adopted serious and deeply embedded practices of continuous improvement.  Others have fully integrated purposefulness each day on the job, clearly connecting purpose to the attainment of the social responsibility inherent in the enterprise’s existence.  In brief, these practices are grounded in systems thinking.

In. these enterprises, each person learns that all outcomes are the product of systems of which they are a part.  The challenge is to remove hierarchies in the system so that outcomes are based on a collective sense of contribution, learning, trust, and achievement.  The system is made of individuals not just acting in concert, but acting as one.

Success of individual enterprises that adopt systems thinking is insufficient for the sense of security and unity we must achieve.  Let  us not be selfish with the greater possibilities inherent in  systems thinking.

A new paradigm:  democracy in the workplace, or  put another way, participation in the development of a greater good.

There is not very much evidence that the types of enterprises I am describing lead its participants to act with more of a collective sense outside of the workplace.  There is not a great deal of research in this field either!  This lack of research ought not hold us back.

It seems to me that the time has come for grander experiments…enterprises that function with systems thinking ought to challenge the many organizations in their communities to act accordingly.  Why can we not establish community councils that become enablers of systems thinking across enterprises, across government, schools, banks, community organizations, and especially healthcare, which in many communities has become the largest employer?

The discussion across organizations  ought to begin with a question, “What do WE want?”  From their answers, we then must attain all the facts that stand in the way of the desired outcomes.  Our workplaces become the microsystems of  problem-solving, of contemplation and experimentation to attain the value from continuous improvement methods and sharing of outcomes across the enterprises and across the “councils” of the community.

In our New Year we have a heightened sense of responsiblity to move away from the threat of “redlines” and on to a future of democratization of our activity and behavior.

Trust is built through transparent sharing of facts and a systems approach to confronting what those facts tell us.  On a large-scale, we know that the unfairness that people feel every day, the unfairness that fuels grievance is really by and large based on a system of waste.  Wasted human energy.  Wasted money.  Wasted time. Wasted potential and  ennoblement of human beings.  We can achieve trust across  our large and  diverse landscape through dialogue and a vision of improvement.

We must have the courage to ask:  What do WE want… so that the collective sense of outcome drives a new paradigm of collective health…physical, psychic, social, and economic.

And without a sense of empowerment for people to be part of solving our challenges, we are likely not to solve them.   I think that this has been at the root of our having been stuck for a very long time.

Happy New Year.

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