The Last Why

“If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep not getting what you’ve always not gotten.” – Anonymous, updated.

After the last post, The Myth of Meritocracy?, I still had a feeling that something remained, that something was lurking even further below the thread of failed expectations. There was ample agitation expressed in the article that, even with countering the “myth” idea, there was more.

One aspect is that, in spite of failed expectations that arise from easily identified external forces, such as favoritism, bias, unexpected competition, and, of course, the myth of meritocracy, there is also the ever present contribution from internal forces, the unexpected consequences from our own choices (or lack of them), the lack of adequate preparation, and the failure to recognize weaknesses and poor skills. It’s these internal forces that we often fail to recognize, and probably more often consciously choose to ignore. ‘Nothing I did contributed to my failing to get chosen.”

But this would not explain the level of discontent, of anger. The preference to fix the blame on outside forces, other people or circumstances would occur about 80% of the time even in the best of circumstances (the Behavior Curve doesn’t take external circumstances under consideration). But this type of behavior appears to have grown beyond what one would expect, even if one took the slow recovery after the 2008 recession into account.

There seems to be something else that affects this behavior, a deeper root that has not yet been uncovered. Or, perhaps because of Political Correctness, we’re refusing to try to identify one. Thus, I began to ask another Why?

The Last Why?

Two generations ago one could freely hitchhike, even cross country, could start up a relaxed conversation with strangers on a plane (I once got to hold a crying baby for a four hour flight after she fell asleep in my arms), on a bus, or on a street corner, could leave our cars and our homes unlocked at night or when we were not home, could let our children play outside in fields or woods with friends or new acquaintances for hours unsupervised, and could simply drop off our children for childcare. Trust was pretty much assumed in society.

Now, virtually none of these is possible. Trust is no longer a staple of American culture.

It does not even manifest itself in Congress (see photo).

(Aaron Baggenstos photographed these bald eagles (symbols of American government and cultural strength and unity) for the Audubon Photography Awards)

The only reliable trust appears to be confined to our families and our individual Dunbar Group – the ~150 people with whom we have the closest relationship and the most mutual influence. Where we once enjoyed the affirming “Trust, but confirm,” we now practice the disaffirming “Untrustworthy, unless proven otherwise.”

A great deal of this mistrust is reinforced by the vast amounts of conflicting information propagated by these new technological platforms of communication (social media, the web), but we continue to tap into them in the search for something trustworthy. Our intuitive sense of trust has been betrayed by the more open and amplified self-preserving behaviors we observe around us. These are no longer the unusual; they have become more the norm. Why?

One issue is that we’ve forgotten that Attitudes become Behaviors by Choice. Another is that we’ve presumed that Values, rather than be intentionally taught, will develop by absorption, will be learned vicariously from our subculture and extended society, including these self-same social media. We’ve abdicated Effort.

As a consequence we’ve become more risk adverse with Trust, especially with persons outside our close-knit Dunbar Group. We’ve become more cautious and defensive. While each of us have the capability (Choice plus Effort) to behave in the upper 20% of the Behavior Curve (the constructive taking of initiative, adding value, being “Other” focused, “Giving”), we’ve defaulted to the lower 80% of the curve where the intuitive response is some measure of “Taking” by “Looking Out For #1,” where the only question asked is, “Who did This To Me?” (or its immediate precursor, “What is (S)He going to try to do to me?”

How did we end up openly abdicating Effort?

A majority of people fails to appreciate the connection between their Practiced Behaviors and their Prevalent Attitudes, which are built upon deep-seated Values, whether these are fully recognized or hidden (“Sleeper Values”). And these Values, the deep-seated ones, are taught from a young age, or caught from the wider environment (our subculture, through the Behavior Continuity), and are built on our underlying belief system.

This subtle erosion of Trust, I suggest, began when our primary values-forming belief system began to be discredited.

Once intellectuals (the thinkers) decided that belief in a system of faith in a higher power was unfounded and untenable (it couldn’t be proven by their standards), it followed that “imposition of personal beliefs on someone else” was politically incorrect. It was also concluded that it was in violation of the concept of separation of church and state, and thus any “group practice” of personal beliefs and practices outside of a faith organization was verboten. The irony of this is, that by claiming it was politically incorrect to force young, impressionable children to practice someone else’s beliefs, they forced young, impressionable children to accept their beliefs. (Sigh).

By stripping away the foundation of theirUnnecessaries” (a faith foundation), the door was opened for the unintended consequence of slowly eroding everyone’sNecessaries”: Trust.

Where there was once high public regard for one’s faith and religious beliefs, it is now much more common to express this only in private. What has become much more public is open disregard if not disbelief that people still “believe in that sort of thing.”

The inevitable and visible consequence of this has been a slow slide down a slippery slope, to the left on the Behavior Curve where Self is of the highest importance. An individual’s and a subculture’s only available response in most situations has become choosing the defensive Question #1 and acting on it – Fixing The Blame.

So it appears that these are the steps to the Root Issue:

  1. If you don’t get what you want (“I want it all, and I want it now” 1), Fix the Blame; because
  2. It can’t be anything you did, or couldn’t do; because
  3. It feels better to defend yourself against the world; because
  4. You can’t trust them, they’re just out to Take something from you; because
  5. There aren’t enough trustworthy people anymore to pursue Question #2 (“What can I make from this Opportunity?”); because
  6. They are supposed to extend Trust and Respect to you first, but they didn’t; because
  7. They value themselves (Self-oriented Takers) over you; because
  8. The Root Cause is that everyone’s primary, healthy Other-oriented Values-forming belief system has been undermined.

Easy Peasy. Just not Politically Correct.

(1 Queens’ lyrics, especially these, are so culture-appropriate that they have been used in a large number of commercials, documented here)

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About Jim Edmonds

I am a husband, father, mentor, who once was a chemist turned physicist turned marketer turned executive turned missionary turned professor. And survived it all.
This entry was posted in 13: Values & Self, 14: Behavior, 16: Culture and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Last Why

  1. Sally Chaplin says:

    Looking forward to more, Jim! Thank you and I resonate with the “Attitude becomes behavior by choice” -powerful statement. While article is very thought provoking, and deep assessment time.

    Like

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