Drifting without an Anchor

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.” – Hebrews 11:1

Mulling over that last post on The Next Why gave me time to consider the following:

Given the influence of social media and the Internet, a Dunbar Group is probably no longer adequate to describe our closest relationships.

We should enlarge this idea and refer to it as our Dunbar Bubble (our ~150 closest relationships and our most trusted information sources, neither of which honestly intersect with most of the rest of the world). We are all just floating in our own little “worlds,” just “filter bubbles” jostling against each other. Since economic conditions are flat, the jostling feels like competition for limited “space” rather than, in a growing economy, flowing forward together. Think exiting smoothly from a theater after a performance versus fighting your way in panic through a single exit.

With respect to Trust in the last post, two additional aspects came to mind: Responsibility and Accountability. They are not quite the same, and to confuse things dictionaries use them to define each other in a circular manner, to whit (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary):

Responsibility: the quality or state of being responsible: such as moral, legal, or mental accountability.

Accountability: the quality or state of being accountable, especially: an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions. “Public officials lacking accountability.”

Perhaps this is splitting hairs, but consider the following:

When driving there is invariably a speed limit, typically set by local or state authorities, as well as a “correct” side of the road. If we were honest we’d have to admit that speed limits are never too high for what we’re comfortable with; they’re always too slow. But they’re there for a reason – the common good, whether that be for a residential area, school zone, construction zone, or narrow lanes with no shoulder or safe exit path. Our responsibility is to those around us as well as ourselves (and theirs for themselves including us), but our accountability, however, is to the agency charged with enforcing the limits – local or state police. Our “loss aversion” instinct tells us there’s not much potential loss for exceeding the speed limit, but it’s whopping if we drive on the “other” side of the road. So we don’t.

Then consider taxes, whether local, state, or federal. Again, these are set by authorities for specific purposes to benefit the common good. However, we are accountable to the tax authorities and the courts if we fail to meet our responsibilities.

In both of these cases, notice the following truths: the imperfect laws were written by imperfect people to spread around responsibility for the common good in as fair a manner as reasonably (conceivably?) possible, and delegate responsibility to each of us individually to faithfully meet them.

And thereby hangs the tale.

Since the laws were written by imperfect people, it follows that the laws are also imperfect – they contain what we call loopholes. And if there’s a loophole, there’ll be a body slipping though it somewhere. In fact, everywhere.

We saw this in a previous post, where studies have shown that with regards to paying taxes, the average individual manages to avoid about 3% of the taxes the law expects them to pay, but the top 0.05% of the population manages to avoid, on the average, about 15% of its obligations.

And on the highway, my observations are that if I am going 70 mph in a 70 mph zone (with cruise control and a tracking GPS indicating 70 mph), about 90% of the traffic, including trucks, is flying by. Except, of course where there are police, which I know about because a majority of those people who flew by me have forewarned me by posting a “Report” on Waze. And all but a few oblivious drivers slow down.

Why do we do this? (Sorry, apparently there are still more Whys?)

If we look into the Behavior Curve it should become a bit clearer.

The Behavior Curve simply indicates how our behavior changes (on a communal level, from constructive or building on the right, to surviving, to destructive or taking on the left) depending upon how much “Self” is coursing through our minds, either consciously or unconsciously. At the far right of the curve, well into the constructive behavior zone and being more focused on the well being of others, there is still a measurable component of “taking care of myself” that is there. No one can be so completely altruistic that they are 100% other-oriented.

And this ever-present component of “Self,” even if it is only 20% or 30% of our subconscious concern, is enough to sway or alter our behavior. Why?

Because, even if we are Givers (to the right) and not Takers (to the left) and feel we are constantly in a “serving others” mode, it is sometimes virtually impossible not to hold ourselves accountable to – ourselves. No matter how hard we try.

I’m a little late and there isn’t much other traffic on the road, and there’s no indication that there are police around to “hold me accountable,” so I’ll be accountable to myself and speed up to make up time.

And I’ll pad my charitable mileage deduction because it still costs me the same to drive as it does for business, and look what I’m contributing so that the government doesn’t have to step in. Besides the fact I deserve it and am ultimately accountable to me, the IRS will never waste time to identify something that small….

So, here’s the outcome: so long as we are living a world focused on the here and now and our responsibilities can be associated with a common here and now good, defined by imperfect laws or expectations that have been written or created by and will be enforced by imperfect people, there will always be a possible and probable recourse to Self. Sometimes admirable, sometimes despicable, but always depending upon stresses, forces, or crisis circumstances, the magnitude of this accountability may vary, but it is there. Because we, too, are imperfect people.

Two simple but recent examples come to mind.

The producer of The Crown (Netflix, 13 Emmy nominations), Peter Morgan, expressed the following (Variety),

… he appreciated that Netflix was as good as their word in their promise of creative freedom. “There is slightly a promised land, except that I feel a greater sense of responsibility perhaps,” he says. “I recognize that this is a golden opportunity, and I think writers and directors have yearned for and fought for this level of autonomy. So that when you actually get it, I feel a sense of collective responsibility. I feel the weight of my colleagues on my shoulders. Because if I overspend and get it wrong … [If I] make a show and don’t get it right, they’ll want to interfere more to secure their own investment. And I want to show that artists can be trusted. Financially and creatively.”

Here is recognition of responsibility, first to Netflix, for meeting their expectations, financial as well as creative, and second a collective responsibility to creative colleagues. Then there follows accountability to himself in terms of creative expectations. This is a socially admirable “self-accountability” and, judging by the results, well achieved.

Then consider the volunteer rescuers for Hurricane Harvey, part of a “whole-community response” that FEMA has moved towards since Hurricane Katrina, recognizing volunteer rescuers as a valuable resource to make use of. Craig Fugate, former head of FEMA, said (The Atlantic),

“It’s something that responders, whether they’re in the private sector, or they’re volunteer, or they’re in government—it’s this compelling nature that, I want to help them because it makes me feel good. The more I do for them, the better I feel. But, it’s not good for them!” Fugate said. “It doesn’t really make sense to people: But they need us! They need help. But they also need to be in control.”

There is this compelling nature, a responsibility for the common good, but there is also a recognizable accountability to self, doing something that makes one feel good (and possibly also regaining some control). While a bit self-serving, it’s only slightly self-serving considering the contribution made to all those rescued.

One would have a hard time criticizing people for being this “selfish” in these two circumstances, but one can recognize a respectable accountability to Self in each case. We admire them, even though Self benefits to a certain degree.

I think the disappearance of Trust described last time should be viewed as the unintended consequence, the long building result of the overt removal of prayer from public places, coupled with the consequential and more covert slow decrease in open respect for religion and faith in a higher power.

The Behavior Curve considers only Values and Self in its construction. But when one removes or minimizes the highest external driving force that established these fundamental values, then values begin to “float” and become determined primarily by the here and now and the social Dunbar Bubble of culture that dominates one’s life. This “floating” happens because one has also removed the highest external focus of one’s accountability for these values, and replaced it with an internal, relative one.

Instead of God, it is now Self.

Yes, but… research from the Pew Research Center indicates that ~90% of Americans believe in God to some degree.

If that is the case, at whatever level that “belief” is, it apparently doesn’t do a very good job in influencing Values, which then translate into Attitudes, which by Choice then become those rather overt selfish Practiced Behaviors everyone observes. Attitudes become Behaviors by Choice.

The truth is, belief in God at any level doesn’t translate very well into “Godly” behaviors, and not just in the US.  Research shows (Pew Research Center) that in Eastern Europe belief in God is quite high, but because the Orthodox Church does not emphasize translating doctrine into daily behaviors affecting interpersonal relationships, practiced behavior has for centuries focused on simple survival and preventing further personal “losses.”

It seems over the world there are very different levels of “belief,” ranging from a Consumer level (nominal belief), a Culture level (participatory belief), to a Commitment level (Practiced Behaviors actually based on Values) (here).  Historically, it seems religious organizations haven’t done a very convincing job of explaining to people “why they are still here.”

Apparently the key is not just belief in a higher power, but accepting that external higher power as the anchor for one’s values, the focus of one’s accountability, and the source of one’s behaviors.

Rather than holding oneself accountable to external here and now authorities (police, organizational management, the IRS, our subculture) only when they are really present, one understands accountability is to one’s internal values as established by an external and ever-present Authority: a proper understanding of an ongoing relationship with God. And therefore because one chooses to hold oneself accountable.

Why will this become even more important to understand?

At the moment most of us still work for organizations that operate within a location and hierarchical framework. We have an office (or if we telecommute, there is an office somewhere to which we are connected), have a manager, and probably work within a team. We have connectivity, and we execute our responsibilities understanding we are accountable to something in the here and now, something tangible, external, and measurable: management, a strategic plan, goals.

(Even if we excel at tangible objectives and goals and contribute significant value added to the organization and customers (and are tangibly rewarded for this), the Behavior Curve shows that there is a still small but significant need to provide for the Self. This is where recognition, gratitude, and unexpected appreciation play a significant role. Ignoring this intangible need probably contributes significantly to the fact that ~60% of employees dislike their jobs and/or their bosses.)

According to experts, how will this change in the near future? Here are some thoughts from Dr. Bob Johansen as expressed in his book, The New Leadership Literacies, and shared recently on the Leadership Freak blog,

Ten years from now, you could be a leader in a distributed organization. It will have no center, it will grow from the edges, and it won’t be controllable.

Hierarchies will come and go in shape-shifting forms resembling a swirl. Rock-star leaders will be rare.

In our increasingly VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) world, simple will be great, but simplistic will be dangerous.

“How do you thrive?”

In a new world such as this, for both leader and subordinates, where the traditional here and now external accountability anchors have disappeared or been significantly altered, where will people’s anchors drift to?

They will drift to the only currently “admired” alternative, the internal anchor we call Self, and the slow behavior slide we’ve seen over the last 50 years will accelerate.

We can almost formulate another Fundamental Principle here, that of the Conservation of Accountability:

Accountability to (Godly Values, Organization, Subculture, Self) = 1

As you eliminate the anchors to the left, you are eventually only left with the last remaining anchor: Self.

We can see the negative effects of this already when monitoring the shifts in higher education to more online classes where the success of collaborative projects often depends upon team members who are dispersed all over the country and who never meet face-to-face. Invariably there arise more “slackers” (self-serving agendas supersede the common good) than “workhorses” (very capable 2nd in commands), and fewer “saviors” (those who drive themselves and the project to completion with excellence, with a side dish of personal satisfaction).

What’s Your Anchor?

It is the “nature” of Human Nature that, looking at the Behavior Curve, our Human Nature acts like gravity and pulls us to the left, down the slippery slope towards greater accountability to Self, and thus towards more potentially destructive behavior. History doesn’t record many individuals who have overcome this gravity and moved up the curve to the right. Too altruistic, and, according to philosophers and psychologists, not a natural human characteristic or behavior.

The capability to think and behave in a constructive way must be instilled and reinforced from outside. By parents, family, clan, tribe, subculture, by those who already possess enough of this attribute. Believing in God isn’t enough. Understanding and accepting His expectations and choosing to hold oneself accountable to live by them is a good start.

Then we could expect to see a revival of our common Necessary: Trust, at first within our Dunbar Bubble, then our community, then in our culture, and finally in our country. And then we might constructively influence the rest of the world.

Trust is the belief in Behaviors for a Common Good, the expectation of things not yet seen.



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 09: Doing, 10: Integrity, 13: Values & Self, 14: Behavior, 16: Culture, 17: Choice and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Drifting without an Anchor

  1. Jennifer says:

    Very good. Makes sense and is helpful in explaining a lot about what’s going in our nation today. Thank you:)


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