Tuesday, August 3, 2021
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Shifting Social Power Relations

by Judy Ryan

“To reflect upon the present as history is to understand that history may now be made by default. Understanding that, we no longer need accept as “necessary” the lesser evil. We no longer need to accept historical fate, for fate is a feature of specific kinds of social structure, of irresponsible systems of power.
These systems can be changed. Fate can be transcended. We must come to understand that while the domain of fate is diminishing, the exercise of responsibility is also diminishing and in fact becoming organized as irresponsibility. We must hold men of power variously responsible for pivotal events, we must unmask their pretentions- and often their own mistaken convictions- that they are not responsible. Our politics, in short, must be the politics of responsibility.”
- C. Wright Mills, American Sociologist and writer


In my work creating responsibility-based systems, we say that the questions asked should NOT be “WHY is this happening? or WHO’s to blame?” Rather, we should be asking, “What SYSTEM would correct and eliminate this problem?” The latter question is especially important given today’s social challenges, whether it’s equal pay for women, fair opportunity and treatment of minorities, or corruption in politics. What I see in the high drama and polarization of examples such as critical race theory or the refusal to pass laws for equal gender pay come down to the emergence of new human systems desperately needed to solve today’s most pressing problems. The challenge is that these new systems require us all to shift existing social power relations, including in our education, politics, family and work settings, and more. Such a shift scares people who falsely believe they only survive and thrive if they win while others lose.

The reason critical race theory (for example) is a source of heated debate is that there is a real battle between conventional social power structures and those becoming evidently necessary. Alfred Adler, a psychologist during the time of Freud and Jung, did not get as much press during his life because understanding his concepts about what’s needed to foster healthy human beings would threaten the very power structures we’ve had in place for centuries. Now, it is becoming highly evident that these structures have cost us all and have prevented us from managing complexity and diversity — and from solving crucial local and global problems like climate change, poverty, clean water and maintaining democracy. This situation makes many complicit in being fearful, tribal, self-centered, scarcity-minded and corrupt. Despite extraordinarily negative outcomes, too many people are holding onto the status quo with a death grip, while others seek to teach and promote essential, evolving, life-enhancing, innovative social power relations that are so desperately needed.

The divides could not be more evident: those who are threatened by (and kicking and screaming to resist) changes seeking to be birthed at this time and those who are ready for change. The new model that is needed includes shared power, self-organization and -governance, freedom with responsibility, a purpose orientation, agility, and holistic functioning. Those who fear worry about a loss of status, advantage and way of life they have idealized while continuously numbing themselves to their consciences and turning a blind eye to the wellbeing of others. Everything associated with the latter perspective rots.

It’s easy to position this fear of change by focusing on ideas such as critical race theory will make children hate their country, or many adults must now be racist or privileged, or helping people of all ages to lead and follow equally will cause ALL HELL TO BREAK LOOSE! People are offended because they are now being asked to see the current state of life for many others as well as our planet. There is no more disguising of disparities if one looks at reality, even minimally. Resistant people are missing the most important fact. Today’s problems and mental health epidemic will continue unless we create a world that supports who we ALL are at our best. Otherwise, we become debilitated in every meaningful way — economically, physically, emotionally, socially, environmentally, technologically. We foster and remain stunted. By holding onto the existing social power relations, we are weaker, more destructive and violent, compelled to maintain coercion, power-over and power-under, and committed to a win/lose system. These outcomes breed fear, hostility, revenge, resentment and anger in all corners because the structure of win/lose thinking and behaving are at the root of all our preventable conditions and failing systems.

I write this article because today’s social change movements are needed in our communities and workplaces. We cannot allow defensiveness and hurt ego feelings make us blind to the faulty systems to which so many people cling. Instead, apply compassion and curiosity, asking, “What system would correct and eliminate these problems?” We must evolve or we will perish. Choose to evolve now. Call me if I can help.

When larger-than-life heroes fail to create conditions and conversations in which everyone feels and is authentically empowered, lovable, connected and contributing, we all live from fear and we all disengage to some degree. Also, when the hero leaves, much falls apart in the organization and often the hero’s own health. This woman knows what she now cannot unlearn. Now you do too. The danger of the larger-than-life hero is that unless they see what is really happening and respond from LOVE, they are overriding their own conscience and fear of personal cost to maintain their status. If YOU feel inspired to make change my article is describing here, call me. I can help.

Judy Ryan (judy@LifeworkSystems.com), human systems specialist, is owner of LifeWork Systems. Join her in her mission to create a world in which all people love their lives. She can also be reached at 314-239-4727.
People hire LifeWork Systems because we help businesses become agile and manage their priority system: their human system. I hope this article helps you make sense of what’s most crucial to your evolving organization!


 

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