To Maximize Inequality, Collapsing Any Lens (EPCS) Will Do — To Maximize Equality, Requires All 4 Lenses

The crises of the moment, the crises of the century, and the crises of humanity’s evolutionary state all point at the challenges and impacts of structural inequality.  While lots of people are working on this now, many have been working on it for a long time, probably since the beginning of humanity.  To this huge challenge, we add two observations from ecosynomics about what might create structural inequality and what might exist when people experience deep equality.

To maximize inequality, collapsing any lens (EPCS) will do.  To maximize equality requires all 4 lenses.

Inequality.  When you experience a collapse of your agreements to one of deep scarcity, you experience deep inequality. We find that to get to the experience of deep scarcity, all you have to do is collapse the agreements, which you can do by simply collapsing any of the four lenses on agreements: the economic; political; cultural; or social. When any one of these perspectives (lenses) collapses, the whole field of the agreements collapses.  Focus only on tangible resources and take them away [economic collapse].  For decision making and enforcement, regulate to one individual or a small group, who gets to decide and who has the power to enforce [political collapse].  For values, mandate values that submit to the values of the power holder [cultural collapse].  For the rules of the game, focus on efficiency in achieving only the powerholder’s values [social collapse].  If you know this, then stopping the collapse is straightforward. Maybe not easy, but clear. To stop collapse, see the move and counter it, taking away its strength. Make visible other available resources, keep decisionmaking power for others, remind people of other values they also have, increase the rules of the game to include serving other stakeholders.

Equality. While you can focus on one lens to collapse agreements, maximizing equality requires all 4 lenses. In the past 17 years of applying the ecosynomics of abundance-based agreements in 40+ countries, in all sectors, and surveying the experience people have in their agreements across 125 countries, we have hundreds, and now maybe thousands, of examples of groups living the experience of high equality every day, often for decades. We have not found a single one of these groups where they are only strong as seen through one of the four lenses. What you see through all four lenses is high. Through the economic lens, they are clear that they access vast resources in their own potential, in continuous developing capacities and relationships, and in evolving with the feedback they receive from the outcomes they achieve. They are very high performing groups. Through the political lens, decisions are made and supported based on the primary relationship most relevant to the decision, whether it is for the self, other, group, nature’s creative process, or spirit’s source of creativity. The power to decide interweaves these five primary relationships. Through the cultural lens, values include the potential in the individuals and the group, in service to its deeper shared purpose, as well as the developing of capacities and relationships, and the outcomes that provide learning and fruit for the next period. Through the social lens, the principles guiding their interactions focus on the deeper shared purpose as the organizing principle, engaging each necessary participant’s unique contributions, as they develop, deliver, and evolve along the way. These groups we have found represent local government, run textile mills, generate local electricity, provide community health, teach kids, and plant vegetables. They are normal people, living deep equality, everywhere.

Maybe we could learn from groups already living deep equality in ecologies of sacred hospitality. They are living abundance-based approaches to the economic, political, cultural, and social questions. All at the same time.

Groups that try to work on just one of these 4 questions at a time never make it. It seems to not be just an economic question, or just a political question, or just a cultural question, or just a social question. Deep equality seems to require an abundance-based response to all four questions, at the same time. And, lots of people have figured this out. Let’s find more of these groups, and learn with them.

Choosing Your Agency, Everyone Else Is: Recommended Podcast

Your Yes!  It is yours.  With it you can align what you pay attention to, what you care about, and what you do with your purpose. You can choose to give your will, your intention, attention and action towards a future you love.  

To be clear, your will is being used.  Always.  The question is who is using it, towards what purpose.  

If it is being used towards your Yes!, that’s good for you. If you are unaware of this use of your will, it can still be somewhat impactful, towards your Yes! Being aware of this allows you to align your attention and action with your intention towards it, reaping far greater results, in a much more engaging way, for you.  If it is not being used towards your Yes!, then it is being used towards your No!  That is not good for you, as the net result is always negative.

In this episode of the podcast Choiceology, Prof. Katy Milkman explores who usually controls your decisions, your actions.  It is still a choice, one you can make or let others make for you.

It’s Your Health, You Decide

Most of us give over the decisions about our health to someone else. Decisions about what we should eat, what exercise we should do, and how we should respond to getting sick. Essentially, what to put in our bodies, how to move our bodies, and how to fix our bodies when they are not working right. It is a lot to understand, and there are experts who have studied all of this, so we should just do what they say. Right?

Maybe. Partially. As famed physician and author Atul Gawande asks in his book Being Mortal, why are we asking technicians to decide moral questions for us? While they are very highly trained technicians, medical professionals can help us get to the state we want for our bodies, but that requires that somebody decide what that desired state is, and Dr. Gawande suggests that we are the ones to decide that for ourselves.

What are we supposed to decide for ourselves and where might we depend on experts? Easy. If we understand that we are assessing 4 different things. 3 of these are ours to decide, for ourselves. Experts can help guide us with 1 of them. We need to know (1) our actual state, how we are actually doing, (2) our desired state, what we want our health to look like, (3) the gap–the difference–between the actual and desired states, and (4) what to do to close the gap. We have to understand our actual health, in comparison with the health we actually want for ourselves, and what we can do to move towards the health we choose.

There are infinite suggestions about the life you should lead. Most of us don’t follow most of these suggestions. Someone out there tells us not to, but some people like to eat meat or carbs, walk on busy streets or late at night, eat from street vendors or in local dives, smoke, complain, jump out of airplanes and off of cliffs, swim with sharks, drink sweet soda drinks or alcohol, or sit on the couch all day. These are all things that some expert says is bad for us. And, lots of us like to do some of these things. That might be what leads to a life well lived. The problem then might not be what we choose to do or how we choose to live our lives, rather in what we do about what happens along the way.

To know what to do, to maintain our health or strengthen it, we need to know the standard of health we want, where we are right now, and what we can do to close the gap between the two. Information from technology and experts can support us in understanding what our desired state of health looks like and how to measure it (e.g., pulse rate, muscle strength, clean thoughts, no headaches), how to assess our current level of health with similar measures, and what we can do to alter our current state. If you want to be able to have stronger legs, these different forms of exercise might work for you, depending on what you like to do. Swimming, walking, lifting weights, squats. Here are the measures, the possible actions, and now you can assess and decide. It’s your choice–what you want, where you are, and what you can do to get where you want. If this is what you want to do (see the long list above), these are the consequences that you live with, and what you can do to ameliorate the impacts.

To be able to make this shift in mindset, from leaving it to others to decide to deciding for yourself, it is helpful to clarify how you think about your health. To you, what is your “original state” and what is “normal”? Let’s look at this question for your physical health and then your mental and social health.

YOUR PHYSICAL HEALTH

There exist 2 very different perspectives on your physical health. Where you start from will greatly determine what you do and what you achieve. One perspective is that you start with your “original state.” The other perspective is that you start from a “normal state.”

Your original state. The body you were given is a miracle. While it has been studied forever, we still have very little understanding of how it does what it does. It is born, with you in it. It grows. For half of us, it makes babies and milk for babies. For the other half, it makes seeds for babies. It grows older. It grows stronger. It fights diseases and fixes wounds. It dies. That’s a lot. In your original state, you have a very high functioning physical state, doing a huge amount in every single instant, over a whole lifetime, and this is normal. Lower than this is pathological. For some reason, in this whole universe of infinite energy, we exist as Homo lumens, as natural beings. Our body is created, grows, strengthens, and procreates, without our conscious awareness or design. And, our awareness and design influence what we do with this energy-flowing structure-energy-field we are given. It is a very complex system that is made to work at a high level of performance (efficiency and effectiveness, leveraging small inputs into sustainable, resilient outputs for all systems, in all parts of the body, at all times). This is our given state, a state that our lack of understanding and awareness “normally” degrades. This is our “original state.”

Your normal state. From a “normal state” view of the world, we look at what is normal for people, what the standard distribution of people do. From this perspective, low levels of health are fine. Higher is nicer. We expect people to be in poor health, because that is what we find, normally. We make conscious choices and accept unconscious conditions that work against our body instead of with it. Just think of the obesity epidemic, chronic disease years-of-life lost, and the high levels of malnutrition we accept around the globe. With a world of water and plants, we allow vast amounts of people to die from dehydration and malnutrition. With easily-scalable high technology, we allow many people to die early from easily avoidable conditions (dirty air, dirty water, contaminated food, communicable disease). After all, this low state of health is what we see in lots of people, so it is “normal.” Better than normal is nice. This is our “normal state.”

YOUR MENTAL, SOCIAL HEALTH

We see the same for your mental and social health. The World Health Organization suggests that health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. As with our physical health, the same two perspectives apply to our mental and social health—and “original state“ and a “normal state“ view. Which do you choose? Your original, given state or what is normal amongst others? Your “original,” given state of intense creativity, passion, and will to engage in creating a future to which you give your love, in your own, unique ways, every day? Or your “normal state” of being disengaged and apathetic about what actually happens?

You decide and you assess. Here are a few quick, easy tools for measuring your own state of health, using instruments my colleagues and I have developed and tested over the past two decades in over 125 countries. All of these well-tested, validated measures are available for free online—I provide the link to them. You can use them as you wish for yourself. If you would like help in understanding or applying these tools to your own health, feel free to contact me.

The “You Choose” Plan.

  1. You choose your standard of physical, mental, and social health
  2. You asses your actual levels
  3. You determine the gap
  4. You choose the actions to take

Experts and expert tools can help you assess these, and they can help you setup a continuous monitoring scorecard system, to bring you greater resilience for when things happen. It is a choice. Your choice.

Our Mental Health and Wellbeing: Recommended Readings

How do we choose in vast swaths of uncertainty? Insights into how to choose your agreements, in any moment, for the now and for future, by our colleague Fred KrawchukNavigating Uncertainty with Strength, Focus and Agility

What are we learning about mental health, wellbeing and happiness? Here are some notes from our colleagues doing this work every day.

Mental Health for Teens — Learn about a “systems of caring” approach to teen mental health and well-being from our colleagues at the Well Being Trust, shared by Tyler Norris, Chief Executive, Well Being TrustIt’s Time To Invest In Better Health and Well-Being for Teens

Thriving Together — Our colleagues at the Well Being Trust share their findings for “Thriving Together,” as a path forward for what comes now and next. How to co-generate a more equitable recovery for all of us, as the United States — Well Being Trust Releases Thriving Together: A Springboard for Equitable Recovery and Resilience in Communities Across America

Flourishing Leaders — My colleagues Matt Lee, from Harvard’s Human Flourishing program, with Ed Brooks, Emmie Bidston and Katy Granville-Chapman cohost the eCourse Leading and Flourishing in Difficult Times with the Oxford Character Project, bringing the #ecosynomics of #abundance#sacredhospitality, and #cohosting to leadership in difficult times. I just completed the course myself–it is filled with insights, exercises, empowering interviews, useful resources. I highly recommend it to leaders who say Yes! to choice, Yes! to a future they love.

Human Flourishing — My colleague Tyler VanderWeele shares insights from research on the positive effects of volunteering on human flourishing — Volunteering and Human Flourishing

Global Happiness Movement — Our colleagues at the WOHASU Foundation hosted Richard Layard, co-editor of the UN’s World Happiness Report and LSE economist, sharing his observations on the status of the Global Happiness Movement — Status of the Global Happiness Movement featuring Richard Layard & hosted by Karen Guggenheim

All Rules Come with Standards and Principles You Didn’t Set—With Principles-based Choosing, You Set All Three

As I described in an earlier post, one way to be more resilient is to shift from thinking about rules to standards and principles.  John Rawls, a moral and political philosopher, highlighted in his book, A Theory of Justice, the differences amongst the terms rules, standards, and principles.

Rules are straight lines, asking yes/no questions, looking for triggering conditions that something is changing, seeking predictability and certainty.  Ex ante, the thinking is that this rule should and will provide this stability.  Put it in place, and let it work.

Standards are balancing feedback systems, with a gap between a stated goal and the actual state driving action that changes the actual state, like a thermostat.  This system looks for balancing factors in a set of relevant considerations and options, providing a range of choices.  Ex post, this thinking asks whether this standard maintained the behavior within a desired range.

Principles are systems to be considered, providing guardrails for the feedback loops (standards) to include, and how the choices made in actions might be interpreted.  In reflection, this thinking asks whether the system of standards and rules under consideration increases resilience of the desired impact.

Rules tell you what actions to take to close the gap. For example, for your physical health, eat this many calories, with this mix of proteins, grains, vegetables, and fruit. Or do this much exercise a day. For your mental health, read this, think about this, stop thinking about this, or talk to this person. For your emotional health, have these friends, and engage in this way. Each of these guides for how to act are rules. Rules often come with implicit standards of what healthy looks like, based on a principle of standards, rules, and who should be setting them.

Simply put, every rule comes with standards and principles, whether you agreed to them or not. With a principles-based start to your choices, you set all three. You decide who decides, towards what purpose, with what standard, what feedback process, what rules, and what actions. You choose.

You Cannot Rule Resilience — It’s The Principle of the Thing

We want our efforts to have an impact.  If we invest a lot of effort, we want the impact to last longer.  The impact we want is the result of effort we put into a system: our family, our kid’s school, our church, our work, the local community, a regional initiative, a global change effort.  A sustained impact requires that the system we are putting our efforts into be resilient.

And, life happens. As life happens, things in the system change.  People get older.  New people are born.  People change jobs.  Local perspectives or conditions change.  New politicians are elected.  New products arrive in the market.  As all of these things continuously change, they change the system they interact in.  To sustain the impact of our efforts, the systems we put those efforts into need to be resilient to these changes.  Resilience, in this context, means the ability to adjust to changes (from the Latin resiliens, to jump back), to absorb these changes without collapsing into a qualitatively different form with a different set of processes.

Impact resilience, sustained impact from the co-investment of our efforts, requires that we rethink how we design, lead, and administer our systems. Many of the words we use to describe the design, leadership, and administration of human systems come from the same PIE root *reg- “move in a straight line.”  To rule, to reign, to regulate, and all of their derivatives, such as sovereignty, regimen, regulation, orient our designs, leadership, and administration towards directing in a straight line, towards stability, towards sameness.  And, life happens, which moves  us and the systems we interact in away from sameness and stability.  Impact resilience is about working with the changes, not against them.  The changes will happen, all of the time, in every system, so our efforts are more resilient when we work with the fact of changes.

One way to be more resilient is to shift from thinking about rules to standards and principles.  John Rawls, a moral and political philosopher, highlighted in his book, A Theory of Justice, the differences amongst the terms rules, standards, and principles.

Rules are straight lines, asking yes/no questions, looking for triggering conditions that something is changing, seeking predictability and certainty.  Ex ante, the thinking is that this rule should and will provide this stability.  Put it in place, and let it work.

Standards are balancing feedback systems, with a gap between a stated goal and the actual state driving action that changes the actual state, like a thermostat.  This system looks for balancing factors in a set of relevant considerations and options, providing a range of choices.  Ex post, this thinking asks whether this standard maintained the behavior within a desired range.

Principles are systems to be considered, providing guardrails for the feedback loops–standards–to include, and how the choices made in actions might be interpreted.  In reflection, this thinking asks whether the system of standards and rules under consideration increases resilience of the desired impact.

By working with principles, we are designing the systems we put our efforts into to embrace the changes that will happen continuously, constantly adjusting, asking the questions and considering the choices in actions that can be taken to continue to meet the standards we set.

There is nothing wrong with rules and standards.  Impact resilience comes from organizing our efforts in systems based on principles, where the standards and rules play their part in increasing the ability of the system to jump back, to be resilient to changes.  Low resilience often comes from focusing only on the rules, and not being clear about the implicit standards and guiding principles in the system.

This requires that we rethink all of the terms and processes based primarily on ruling, regulating and reigning, reframing them as principle-based systems that embrace the changes that will happen, because the system is alive.  We want our efforts to have impact, resilient impact: that is the principle of the thing.