How Did We Get Here?  And Where Are We Going?

I have spent my professional life examining the relationship between Individual Psychology and Cultural Behavior  When is the relationship positive and productive, and when is it negative and destructive.  My view of Individual Psychology is Freudian, meaning simply that adult choices and decisions have their roots in early life experiences.  I use the reference to Freud with some hesitation, since the translations of his work are almost all deeply flawed.  All I mean is that your basic assumption and beliefs about people are well formed (but not consciously articulated) by your fifth birthday (in some cases, as late as seven – nine years old.  Does this mean that you’re a fixed, pre-determined entity, with no free will?  No, not at all.  It simply means that until you begin to understand why you do what you do, you’re on auto-pilot.  For example, if you always feel attacked and deprecated when criticized by important people in your life, you will be incapable of changing your reaction, until you connect it with an early life relationship that always left you feeling unappreciated and unimportant.  

By culture, I mean the articulation of core values in the construction of societal institutions and practices.  This means that there is nothing accidental, or “objective” about the way we form our educational, business or healthcare structures and practices.  The way we have built our schools, taught our children, and rewarded or punished student behavior, is a direct reflection of the merging of Individual Psychology and Cultural Behavior.  The same applies to the way in which we literally and figuratively have built our businesses and structured our healthcare systems.

I have laid out this framework to make the point that we will be unable to heal our culture, without a full understanding of the interplay between the Individual and the Culture. In the service of doing this, I’d like to address four questions that dominate the public discourse:

  1. How Did We Get To This Awful Place That Has Left Us With A Hostile, 

     Disrespectful And Polarized Interpersonal Landscape? (Along With A 

     Wrecked Economy)

  1. What Needs To Change In Our Schools?
  2. What Needs To Change In Our Business Community?
  3. What Needs To Change In Healthcare?

My answer to the first question may surprise you.  Things got too good for too many people.  That is, a significant number of Americans took the risk of starting businesses, investing in new, untried technologies, changing the ways they’ve always worked, and essentially betting the farm on their faith in an increasingly open, yet scary and risky, opportunity rich society. They took the chance that they could do well – better than they ever had done before; or, they could lose everything.

Another group decided that the risk was too great.  They tried to keep things the same as they’ve always been, but soon found that in a perpetually changing culture, embracing high risk, they were getting further and further behind.  It would be an understatement to say that this created a growing reservoir of anger and rage.  The question inevitably arose, that fueled a gargantuan need for revenge.  Why is life getting so much better for “them,” but nothing’s changing for me?  This led to a frantic search for external explanations for the plight of those who had decided not to raise their level of risk.  It was police brutality, discrimination in the workplace, elitism, and the residue of America’s history of racism and dehumanization.  This lead to a wanton lashing out of property destruction, the obliteration of the economic dreams of innocent people, and the overriding abandonment of the tenets of civilized society.  All of this was fed by the coalescence of Individual Psychology and Cultural Behavior  –  by people having no understanding of what was fueling their rage, and authority figures deeply frightened by what was happening to their culture.  We are slowly working our way through this, but it will take a protracted process of healing and grieving  the panoply of poor, damaging decisions that were tolerated by all of us.  

The second question is:  “What Needs To Change In Our Schools?”  The pandemic of COVID – 19 and the disastrous reactions of our public health and political leaders, shone an appalling light on our failing school systems.  It became apparent that our children were not only being short-changed when it came to learning hard skills (math, reading, writing, and science); they were deprived of even a basic understanding of soft skills (decision-making, relationship building, conflict management and giving and receiving feedback.)  They were being prepared to live and work in a low risk culture that has long ago disappeared. In order to turn this around, three things have to change:

  1. The confusion of education with learning, must end. Education involves the transference of content and information from one person to another.This is, by itself, no longer a competency.  Learning is the development of an appreciation for self-formation: Why do people do what they do, and what is it based on?  This requires individuals to identify their core values, and commit to live by them.
  2. The abandonment of physical schools and the use of community institutions as the platform for learning.  This is not simply a wholesale shift to home schooling.  It is the creation of “learning pods” facilitated by free lancing teachers.
  3. The conclusive end of tenure for teachers at all levels, and the elimination of any security for administrators.  All teachers would have one year contracts, renewable for another year.  Evaluations would be pooled, and would involve input from colleagues, parents, administrators and students.

The third question is:  “What Needs To Change About Business?”  The biggest obstacle to creating true excellence in business, is to penetrate the denial and caretaking practiced by leaders.  In the vast majority of businesses, difficult people are tolerated, and often indulged, to the detriment of accountability, morale and productivity.  In order to break through this denial and caretaking, three things have to change:

  1. All members of the C-Suite must have personal development plans that parallel their professional development plans; and these plans should be monitored and critiqued by external consultants.  By personal development plans, I do not mean courses or workshops – I mean the identification of self-made obstacles (how they get in their own way), and specific action plans for removing these obstacles.
  2. The identification and elimination of at least two “areas of denial” amongst the organization’s leadership – in both their personal and professional lives.
  3. The elimination of all full-time faculty from MBA programs.  All people teaching in these programs would be adjunct faculty who must be involved in working businesses or consultancies. 

The fourth question is: “What Needs To Change About Healthcare?”  The challenge in transforming healthcare, revolves around its historical immunity to measuring its outcomes and results, and its tolerating dysfunctional behavior within its ranks.  In order to take on this challenge, four things need to change:

  1. Medical schools must be required to teach courses in “Giving And Receiving 

          Feedback,” as well as how to confront dysfunctional behavior amongst 

          colleagues, clients and vendors.

  1. Replace the term “patient” with “client.”
  2. Healthcare institutions need to be run like a business – all professionals need goals that facilitate accountability for improving client service and repeat business.
  3. A significant emphasis needs to be on in-house training in “Loss, Grieving  and Healing,” for all staff that has even minimal interactions with clients.

Turning our culture around and pointing it in the right direction will require all of us to look inside ourselves, and decide if the roles we’ve been playing, really reflect who we believe we are.  In the tumult of the last few years, we’ve been bombarded with countless messages about who we ought to be.  Perhaps it’s time, as Oscar Wilde put it, to “Be Yourself, Everyone Else Is Taken.”

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