Who Is First? Me, You, Us, Nature, Spirit?

“Most people think self-oriented and other-oriented motivations are opposite ends of a continuum… Yet, I’ve consistently found that they’re completely independent.  You can have neither, and you can have both,” with UPenn Prof. Duckworth quoting Wharton Prof. Adam Grant (Duckworth, 2016, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, New York: Scribner, p.159).  Angela Duckworth’s research shows that people who most persevere–her paragons of grit–have found and work deeply with both (1) their own passion, their relationship to their own self potential and its manifestation, and (2) the purpose for their engagement, their unique contribution to the group (which she refers to as the other).

Grant’s and Duckworth’s research, and that of others I have shared in earlier blogposts, supports what we are finding, that where you experience a vibrant relationship with your own potential and its development, you also experience a vibrant relationship with the other and with the group, where your unique contribution is invited and acknowledged, and with the source and process of creativity.  The research suggests a correlation–these primary relationships tend to be at a similar level of vibrancy–where one is, the others tend to be.  This is correlational, not causal.  We don’t really know which comes first, which would be the causal explanation, only that they tend to be at similar levels of vibrancy experienced.

The perennial question is, “Which comes first?”  The self, the other, the group, nature, spirit?  This seems to be a question that elicits lots of opinion and dogma, and has for thousands of years.  Maybe a more fruitful question explores where we get the most leverage in shifting our experience to a more vibrant one, where the vibrancy experienced in all five primary relationships is higher?  Some of our research suggests that the highest leverage is to start with yourself, because it is the easiest and most direct intervention we each have on a continuous basis.  While it is definitely hard work to change your own perceptions and behaviors, you have permanent and continuous access to them, and you get to choose.  It is much harder, if not impossible, to do this for others.  So, maybe a more interesting question focuses on where the leverage is.  The self?

As the Adam Grant quote I started with suggests, maybe the power of being able to choose an experience of higher vibrancy comes from not having to choose a point on a continuum between serving your self or another, because the five primary relationships are not tradeoffs, rather something achieved together, because they are fundamentally different, because they are independent.

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Re-cognizing Relational Strengths Before They Atrophy or Before We Kill Them

I observe that, from big initiatives to small, people seem to focus on strengthening one particular relationship.  The relationship to the self or to the other or to the group or to nature or to spirit.  We need to support individuals finding their own developmental path (for the self)!  We need greater fairness in pay (to the other)!  If we would just appreciate each other’s unique contributions, it would all work better (for the group)!  Can’t you see that we have to manifest a new possibility (for nature)?  It is all a matter of appreciating the creative source in all of us!  If we just do this one thing, focus on this one relationship, then it will all work!

And sometimes it does seem to work.  So, we want to copy what they say they did.  They say they just focused on the one relationship (self, other, group, nature, or spirit), and they seemed to be successful.  They got the results we want, and they had the experience we want.  Our research suggests this might not be what happened.

Through the Ecosynomics framing of the five primary relationships and over 1,700 responses to the HV survey, we see that the groups around the world reporting the experience of higher levels of harmonic vibrancy and stronger, sustainable outcomes, all have great strengths in ALL FIVE primary relationships—self and other and group and nature and spirit.  They are strong in all of them.

This suggests another version to the previous story, and the lesson we can learn from them.  The reason they focused on the one relationship, such as freedom for the self, might be because they were already stronger in the other four relationships, and the self was the weakest one.  The self needed to be strengthened, to catch up with the other relationships.  And, as they strengthened the focus on the freedom of the self, they also continued to strength the fairness with the other, appreciation of the unique contributions of each, as they manifested possibilities, by welcoming the creativity they saw everywhere.  In other words, it was because they were already strong in four relationships, that the seemingly strong focus on one relationship worked so well.

The lesson learned?  By being aware of the existing relational strengths, it is possible to develop mechanisms that focus on a weaker relationship to bring it inline with the others.  Playing with words, this is bringing into cognition, into awareness, existing strengths, again: re-cognizing.  When we recognize our relational strengths, we can choose to focus on one, for awhile, without losing attention to or atrophying the others.

This is completely different than starting from a collapsed state, where all five relationships are weak, as in the figure below, and focusing solely on one relationship with the hopes that it alone will get you to experience better outcomes and higher levels of harmonic vibrancy.  There’s no evidence that it works.  Just a lack of recognition of the strengths that were already there.  The other existing conditions they did not see to mention.

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Recession = Healthy Relationships with Collapsed Resources or Collapsed Relationships with Healthy Resources?

Economists as varied as Mises, Mills, and Keynes agree that even in times of economic growth and abundance there is still a need for the group to protect the freedom of the individual, provide some form of justice in relations among individuals, and limit government regulation.[1]  They differ greatly on what to do in times of economic decline and scarcity, when people are in a depressed-collapsed state, which they call a recession or depression.  Some like Keynes suggest government intervention to increase demand, while others like Mises suggest individual freedom to increase supply.  One focuses on a group response and the other on the self response.

Ecosynomics shows this depressed state as the experience of the inner circle of HV, where all five relationships are collapsed – the inability to see potential in the self, other, group, nature, and spirit.  From this perspective, then the debate is about what to do to get out of the completely collapsed state.

Common sense suggests that to move back to healthy levels of relationship, one needs to strengthen all five relationships (self, other, group, nature, spirit), not just one.  To achieve a moderate level of health in all five relationships requires knowing the existing health of each of them.  Any intervention that proceeds before knowing the existing health of each relationship is at best inefficient and more likely to damage the healthy relationships already there.

For example, if I find that in our group, the relationships to the other, group, nature, and spirit are healthy and only the relationship to the self is weak, then a clear focus on the self, the freedom of the individual is important, while maintaining the health of the other four relationships.  Likewise, if I find that the relationship to the group is weak, while the other four are healthy, then strengthening the group relationship makes sense, while maintaining the others.

I suggest this as a lens for what these leading economists saw.  In a culture where the relationship to the individual, other, nature, and spirit remain healthy in a recession, but the relationship to the group is weakened in the economic downturn, then a focus on group interventions might make sense.  To be clear, this might make sense, in this specific setting, but would not be generalizable to other settings.  Following this logic, if an economically recessed group found healthy relationships in the other, group, nature, and spirit, with a weaker relationship to the self, then focusing on individual freedom might make more sense.  Again, contextual.

Rather than debate the generalizability to all situations of self-focused or group-focused interventions in times of economic recession, it might be more fruitful to explore what interventions can strengthen all five relationships and the economic agreements supporting them, depending on the existing health of each of the five relationships.  As I have documented in previous posts, there are many examples around the globe of groups doing just that.  Maybe what they are learning could inform this debate.  After all, all of these economists agree that we want both healthy relationships and healthy resources.


[1] See chapter 24 of Keynes, John Maynard. (2009). The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. New York: Classic Books America.  See p. 141 of Mill, John Stuart. (1984). On Liberty. New York: Penguin Books.  See p. 88 of von Mises, Ludwig. (2006). The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science: An Essay on Method. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund.

Distinguishing Experiences of Scarcity and Abundance

To summarize what I covered in the 7-post series, I will make some distinctions between the experiences of scarcity and abundance, of low and high harmonic vibrancy.  First, when you experience scarcity, you tend to experience lower harmonic vibrancy in all five relationships.  And when you experience abundance, you tend to experience higher harmonic vibrancy in all five relationships.  Thus, a key difference is whether the group experience is one of scarcity or abundance.  When you look a little deeper into the assumptions the group holds, it turns out that those groups that experience mostly scarcity start from an assumption of scarcity and those that experience mostly abundance start with an assumption of abundance.  It is not that scarcity or abundance is absolutely right, rather that it shows up when it is perceived to be the underlying basis of the agreements in the group.  Having said this, I will also suggest that abundance has to exist for the whole system to work.  By this I mean that the abundance is always there, it is just a matter of peoples’ capacity to perceive it.  When the abundance, the infinite light, is not perceived, it is kept in the dark.  By keeping it in the dark, it is undernourished, underutilized, underdeveloped, and undervalued.

Another distinction I have made is that the degree of harmonic vibrancy you experience in any one of the five relationships is very similar to what you experience in all of the relationships.  The experience of a low harmonic vibrancy in any relationship seems to be present when they are all low, and a high harmonic vibrancy in any relationship is only experienced when they are all high.  This suggests that to experience abundance and greater harmonic vibrancy, one needs to pay attention to all five relationships at the same time.

A third distinction I have made is about relationship.  The individual and the group are better off, experiencing greater abundance and harmonic vibrancy, when all five relationships are stronger.  Relationship matters, and the agreements in those relationships determine what is possible.  It is a system.

I started with the fourth distinction.  People prefer the experience of greater harmonic vibrancy to the experience of less, and people experience that harmonic vibrancy in all five relationships – to their own self, to the other, to the group, to nature, and to spirit.

To summarize the four distinctions made so far, some groups start with an assumption of scarcity and others start from abundance.  High-vibrancy groups pay attention to all five primary relationships and low-vibrancy groups do not.  High-vibrancy groups realize that the web of relationships make up a system and low-vibrancy groups do not.  Finally, people prefer higher harmonic vibrancy, as experienced in all five relationships.  For now I will suggest these as four distinctions between groups that experience lower and higher harmonic vibrancy.  With these four distinctions about your experience and the five primary relationships, you have the foundation you need to see, explain, and choose healthier, freer agreements; agreements for higher harmonic vibrancy and abundance.  Future posts will show you how.  With these four distinctions, the journey starts: the journey to uncover the agreements that drive different levels of harmonic vibrancy.  To give the journey a name, something with which I can reference what my colleagues and I learn along the way, I call this journey “ecosynomics.”  More on that journey in the next post.