Psychiatrist and author Daniel Siegel describes the brain as a complex nonlinear system that exists within a larger complex nonlinear system consisting of it and other brains. In other words, it makes no sense to think about a brain in isolation. We are, quite literally, wired by nature to be in intimate connection with one another.
Aware of this biological reality, it’s clear we need an alternative to our current ways. Our me-first habits are thoroughly anti-relational. They encourage and reward dominating and manipulative behaviors – as well as envy, greed, score keeping, and judgment.
Equally, they minimize and suppress more vulnerable emotions that, while more intimate, might be perceived as weak: Uncertainty, vulnerability, confusion, and so on. With all that, our ability to create and sustain the essential nourishment that intimate contact provides is sharply diminished.
Small wonder that we suffer from an epidemic of emotional disorders – depression, anxiety, and addictive behaviors such as drugs and alcohol, sex, workaholism – as well as a pandemic of what I refer to as a vague, generalized sense of “dis-ease” in life.
Radical Decency is the solution to this unhealthy state of affairs in our society. When “decency” is “radically” embraced, this debilitating pattern of emotional isolation is replaced with new ways of living that allow intimate contact to flower and grow.
Here’s how the process works
When we make decency our priority, our life goal shifts from some ill-defined, future goal – how to be successful and rich, or happy and fulfilled – to the intensely practical day-by-day, moment-by-moment task of being decent in every area of our lives. And, with this shift in focus, good things start to happen.
Why? Because we quickly learn that to make more decent, here-and-now choices, we need to deeply understand other people’s motives and ours as well. Radical Decency requires unwavering attention to the many small moments that challenge us to balance decency to ourselves, others and the world. Consider, for example, these dilemmas:
- Should I spend Tuesday morning at mom’s nursing home despite the relentless demands of my work? How about next Tuesday morning? And the next?
- When a quarrelsome and unpleasant co-worker makes a mistake, do I say something or remain silent and uninvolved?
- Are a sufficient amount of my resources invested in my communities?
- Am I taking enough time for the things that really nourish me?
In the mainstream culture, the standard way of dealing with these sorts of issues is to either: (1) ignore them; (2) “solve” them by going to one extreme or the other (self-absorbed obliviousness or self-abnegating sacrifice); or (3) latch onto some convenient excuse to explain them away (“quality time makes up for more regular attention to my kids;” or “taxes take care of my contribution to society”).
Radical Decency, by contrast, challenges us to notice and fully address these sorts of issues. Doing so, we grow important, life-nourishing relational skills:
Living in the present – a natural extension of our here-and-now focus that leads to less shame, guilt, and remorse about the past and less fear and anxiety about the future.
Appreciation, empathy, and acceptance for oneself and others, which leads to less judgment, jealousy, greed, and need to control, while experiencing more warmth and joy within ourselves and in the company of others.
Clarity and coherence about our priorities and choices, which leads to less confusion and anxiety, and an increased sense of ease and well-being.
A spirit-affirming sense of purpose, which leads to less, “is that all there is” hopelessness and a growing sense of vibrancy, aliveness, and pleasure in living.
To me, these are the elements of a good and satisfying life. While Radical Decency is simply the right thing to do, the really exciting news is that it’s also its own reward.
Written by: By Jeff Garson
Jeff Garson is author of Radical Decency: A Values-Based Approach to a Better Life and World. A corporate attorney for 25 years, Jeff left the law profession in 2000 and then founded a multi-disciplinary healing center, as well as the Decency Foundation, which is dedicated to bringing Radical Decency to business. Jeff’s experience as a community activist is equally rich and varied, including leadership in the fight against police brutality in Philadelphia, and co-founding the National Constitution Center. In his second career as a psychotherapist, he has supported many clients who struggled to find their way in a world that relentlessly pushes them to compete and win – and to remorselessly judge themselves when they fall short.
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