Fear and faith, excellent Allies.

Fear and FaithTough social times

Belgium is going through tough social times. November and December have been particularly intense in terms of manifestations and strikes. And it may not be over yet.
Union leaders say that people are very worried and afraid for all the (possible) consequences of the government’s intentions. They say it was not really difficult to mobilize their members to strike. Union members are – according to the union leadership – very ready to strike.
I fully respect the worries and emotions of people but I doubt whether strike is the proper solution. We’re not going to solve that in a blog. But the aspect of fear occupied my mind this week.

Fear

Why are people afraid ? Is it fear that drives them into striking ? Why don’t they have faith ? Faith that using other ways (e.g. dialogue instead of strike) will lead to better solutions ?
And if there isn’t any faith or trust left between unions and government, how has it come that far ?
Many questions. No simple answers.
I use sometimes the “SCARF” framework, developed by Dr. David Rock in 2008.
It explains that when our Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness (SCARF) are at stake, our brain releases reactive energy. Our brain makes us use our energy in trying to defend and keep what we have. “Let’s not loose !”
 

Fear and faith moving us in the SCARF framework
Fear and faith moving us in the SCARF framework

Whenever the same aspects seem to be improved (the opposite of being at stake), also exactly the opposite happens: our brain releases proactive energy. Our brain makes us highly engaged and collaborative to adopt the change. “Let’s win !”
So we move away from the change in the first case. And move towards the change in the second case.
Any simple communication on change can be enough to start this movement. Our brain continuously screens for physical, social threats and rewards. It tries to decrease danger and maximize reward. It makes decisions about everything you interact with in the world.
This is important to understand:

  • Resistance may take various forms. One can fight (e.g. by striking) or flee or freeze. It is not a rational process. People react out of their emotional brain. They act threatened and feel being victims.
  • We use rational statements to articulate our preferences but tend to rely on our feelings when we actually make choices.

Fear drives us away from change. What is needed to drive us towards change ? Even if the change may impact our SCARF negatively ?

Faith

The faith of winning on the long-term, if we’re prepared to “loose” on the short-term ?
The faith that dialogue instead will bring us faster and more efficient in that future ?
The faith that together (unions and government) everybody wins more and faster than each one staying on their own SCARF ?
I get the impression this necessary faith or trust is no longer where it should be between parties. Have some people chosen for radical self-destruction ? I do not understand why the efforts to restart dialogue and trust building, have been so low on the priority list for such a long time

What is needed to reinstall this faith ?

  • Vulnerability

    So far we’ve seen very “macho” behavior: government versus unions and unions versus government. What is going on behind the macho-masks ? Fear at both sides ? The feeling of being powerless ? The conviction the “other side” needs to take the first step ? An honest and vulnerable declaration, like “please, let’s stop this, please let’s listen and talk to each other” may help. No matter from which side it’s coming. Let’s hope these things do happen behind the screens.

  • Empathy

    Does the one side really cares for the other ? And for the general benefit ? Is the government truly feeling the worries of people ?
    Are the unions truly worried about the economy on the long-term and about necessary efforts to be made ?
    We need both to survive: happy, engaged people, embracing change, and an economy to work in.

  • Listening

    In stead of yelling to and fighting with each other on the streets, one could consider to listen. Listen, not to reply, not to give solutions on the short-term, not to recommend, not to decide, and certainly not to judge. But listen, just to listen.
    And even if we do that, I think there is still a long way to go. But at least we will be going towards each other, and not away from each other.

Fear and Faith are Allies

Fear and faith could be excellent allies to make us move from the “away” side to the “towards” side. Vulnerability, empathy and listening are the keys for a successful marriage between fear and faith.
 
 
 
In this movie David Rock himself explains the SCARF framework.

Greedom or Freed (about Greed and Freedom)

The smell of Revolution

The smell of revolution is hanging in the air. The so-called Indignados are taking to the streets to protest against a system that they see as disruptive but that is apparently kept alive by massive financial injections. People are on the streets in Brussels, Madrid, New York and other cities in protest. So are they just rabble, anarchists, a minority, melancholic communists? Are these people protesting because they are unable to integrate in a societal system that is omnipresent and has been so since the times of industrialisation?
Or is there something more to it? Are people rejecting the system?
Naomi Klein asks the question why it took so long before people took to the streets. The answer is simple: it took so long because people indeed have benefitted from the system. The system appeals to one of the main drivers of human behaviour : greed. She describes the current system in her latest book on the shock doctrine (2007).

Greed

Three psychological mechanisms are behind greed. The first mechanism is adaptation. We adapt to new situations. So if we reach a new and higher level of comfort we adapt to it and more we do not appreciate it. Once there, we assume that this level is acquired for ever. A second mechanism is social comparison. People compare their situation with the situation of relevant others. Those relevant others are usually people that are perceived to be better off. The third mechanism is the mechanism of choice. We can choose whom we compare with. We can choose to aspire other things. We can choose what to do and what not to do.
John Whitmore (1997) describes three choices: you can live in a state of need, a state of greed or a state of freedom. These three levels are also called dependence, independence and interdependence. When we make choices based on dependence, we are not taking any responsibility for what happens to us. If we base our choices on independence we are focussing on personal interest and personal interest only. Finally in interdependence we try to reconcile both the personal interests and the the interests of the other. Few people are on the third level, in spite of the fact that we know that people who can function on that level usually experience a high level of meaningfulness and happiness in life.
Zizek (2011) describes the four drivers behind the fact that the current system is no longer sustainable: (1) the worldwide ecological crisis, (2) imbalances within the economic system, (3) the biogenetic revolution and (4) exploding social divisions and ruptures. Drivers 1, 2 and 4 are clear in the protests.

Freedom

A couple of months ago I was in Barcelona and walked through the Catalunya Square where thousands of indignati were gathered and I noticed the multitude of themes they were addressing (see an earlier blog, Spanish Revolution). Indeed, people have a feeling of Unbehagen about the world they live in, even though that the spark that ignites the protests is often unemployment and lack of personal perspectives.
So is this an issue of Zeitgeist, a late fin-de-siècle, an apocalyptic feeling? Well let’s face the brutal facts and then we can only be worried. Putting your head in the sand and ignoring the signs will not get us anywhere.
But solving the problem is not simple if people reside in states of dependence or independence. As long as we derive our identity from what we have and consume and not from what and who we really are (e.g. defined by the trace we leave on the planet, our legacy). It will not work if we cling onto personal objectives. It will not work if we think that earning more, consuming more, … is a definition of success. Leaving all that behind is difficult, because we have been brought up that way. Nomadz.nu proves that it is possible. Their motto is “don’t be rich, live rich”. (http://www.slideshare.net/nomadznu/nomadznu4).

Let’s not be passive

We should not be passive about what is happening around us. If there are changes ahead we should shape them. Today there is protest, but we need real action.
And all of the solutions are available, at least in theory. On a personal level one could strive to be content with what is and not discontent with what is not. Suppressing greed is an act of balance. One could decide to compare oneself with those who are worse off than oneself and look at that other one with compassion instead of judgment. You could design your life based on health and sustainability.
Companies could work actively to install systems of justice based on fairness (cfr Rawls’ Theory of Justice) and reducing the gap between the highest and lowest incomes. Companies could strive for policies that are based on the principle of freedom and interdependence. Shareholders could postpone immediate profit and invest in sustainable operations.
Unions could stop focussing on purchasing power increases and work on sustainable progress. They could focus on employability instead of on income in those countries and companies where decent work is a given. Producers could refrain from exploiting labour forces in other continents.
Governments could regulate and discourage speculations that are in the interest of a few but against general interest. They can build systems that decrease the span between the highest and the lowest incomes. The redistributive function of taxation could be stressed. This requires courageous politicians that are willing and able to take the necessary action. The question is whether or not these politicians will get elected.
Freedom
On different levels, many issues are possible. But to be honest, I am quite pessimistic that this change is likely to occur. People define the current state as freedom, but it is “greedom“. Our current feeling of being free is a false one. We are very much depending on a system that seems to be facing a meltdown and which is addictive. Current solutions are old school and departing from the current system. Billions of Euros and Dollars are pumped into a leaking system, and it’s not bringing any change about.
I’m sure if someone reads this blog, he or she might think this is a radical leftist opinion. It’s not. I ask not to judge on any ideological system, but to look for answers to the huge problems of ecology, economy and society. Let’s put individual responsibility in the center of collective action. Let’s work towards a state of “freed” instead of “greedom”, that’s what those people on the streets want and that’s what people would benefit from. And that’s what our children en their children would benefit from.
And even if there are now only a couple of thousands of them, there will be more. There should be more.
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Klein, N. (2007). The Shock Doctrine, the rise of disaster capitalism. Alfred Knopf Editors.
Rawls, J. (1999). A Theory of Justice. Oxford, Oxford University Press.
Whitmore, J. (1997). Need, Greed or Freedom: Business Changes and Personal Choices. London, Element Books, pp. 224

Zizek, S. (2010). Living in the end Times. London, Verso. 

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