“To be a human being means to possess a feeling of inferiority which constantly presses towards its own conquest. The greater the feeling of inferiority that has been experienced, the more powerful is the urge for conquest and the more violent the emotional agitation.”
“There is a law that man should love his neighbor as himself. In a few hundred years it should be as natural to mankind as breathing or the upright gait; but if he does not learn it he must perish.”
To exact improvements in our society, we all must become responsible for recognizing what increases feelings of inferiority and what diminishes them so we work for healthy belonging and significance for all. Without this, we will not be able to live the primary law of love Adler says must become ‘as natural as breathing or the upright gait’ because we will not know the practical considerations for creating it. In my work with individuals and organizations, I often say, “don’t focus on why something is happening or who is to blame” rather, ask instead, “What systems if they were put in place, would fix and solve this problem?” This article is about critical examination of ALL core systems in need of overhauling, and is not intended to subvert justice for any crime or to make victims responsible for another person’s bad behavior.
When I was growing up, we had a family garden and I remember my dad explaining that when weeding, if I did not dig down and pull out the entire root, the weed would just grow back. This article is written after a year of evident racial violence and upheaval but this article is not about only this terrible societal ill. This is about what is happening around racism and all other abuses of power and aggression and why they continue to resurface again and again. The reason is that we are missing some of the most critical roots regarding them. This article is asking you the reader, to consider key and often unexamined roots beneath all hatred, violence, separation and inequity, whether it presents criminally or not, whether it is subtle and sophisticated or rude and crude so none are overlooked, but rather, all are identified and wholly uprooted.
Whenever blatant injustice resurfaces, people become inspired to speak again about the need for systemic change and a restructuring of power and I wholly agree. Having said this, most people don’t have clarity or consensus about which systems specifically need changing, who should be involved, and exactly how they should be restructured. Racism is just one such destructive symptom that desperately needs reforming, and has yet to be effectively eradicated. I recently spoke with a colleague and former Mayor who knows my work well. During the worst hours around the killing of George Floyd, she said to me, “You need to go in and clean up police departments with your responsibility-based, values-based culture model.” She knows that when my human systems model has been implemented in organizations of many kinds, the positive results we achieve are beyond what most people would ever imagine possible.
While I know that working with police departments could be part of a systemic reform, I knew I would be remiss if I only looked at this one component of a significantly complex problem. If I focused there solely, I’d be ignoring the farthest-reaching, most counter-productive and deepest roots of not only police brutality but all other abuses of power, especially those regularly overlooked. When people fail to consider all components inherent in every ism and win/lose dynamic, as a society we will not achieve resolution to our many struggles. Instead, problems of inequity and abuse will continue to grow back, and sometimes like the weed, will be even stronger than before.
In my work, I apply the psychology of Alfred Adler who taught that to gain ideal community functioning, each member of society must come to understand a concept described as individual psychology in which a person creates their own private logic; the way in which each person interprets life events. Private logic is the way each of us interprets events, has physical and emotional feelings about it, makes decisions about how they can interact with what they believe, and then provokes life until it validates their unique world view. He also coined the phrase inferiority complex, and taught that all struggles within and between people arise from discouragement inherent within the experience of people feeling shameful, unworthy and inferior. Because both private logic and inferiority complex are not widely understood, humans frequently enter into self-perpetuating loops of negative behaviors that result in repeated and excessive struggles.
Adler made it clear that individually and as a community, we must all work towards reducing inferiority complex as a societal goal. We must learn how to create conditions and conversations that actively help people feel a strong and healthy sense of belonging and significance. It is only then that people can be socially interested in one another. Social interest is another characteristic of Adler’s approach. Social interest is a concept and commitment for people to regularly consider consequences their behavior causes others.
Despite his forward-thinking model regarding all of this, when Adler died in 1937, his work still was not widely known or adopted. I strongly suspect this is why; to understand and apply Adler’s approach requires dismantling power-structures that have been in place for centuries. Not only that, it requires a replacement of common and widely unexamined and counter-productive mindsets and practices related to use of power, with something much better. These replacement ways of thinking and behaving are not the status quo (yet) and so many people hold them suspect until they see how well they work. What’s more is that the harmful or helpful practices begin in child-rearing and repeat in our educational, religious and other workplace and community settings. This is why I was not surprised when I read what two recent authors of a book on Adler (The Courage to Be Disliked) claim Adler was at least 100 years ahead of his time. This means Adler would be 30 today and this may be why his ideas are now showing up in one form or another in the most evolved and convergent culture models surfacing today.
Negative outcomes from every win/lose scenario in individuals or groups can be attributed to an activated inferiority complex. Connecting the dots between how we raise up and educate children into citizens and continue to believe and treat them is directly connected with continuous struggles we face as a people, including the volume, scope and volatility of our struggles together and apart. This is continued in adult settings and reinforces that which causes shame, discouragement and disengagement. Awareness and understanding are crucial. Otherwise, widely practiced ineffective and often harmful behaviors persist and the same misuses of power and destructive consequences continue. This is quite apparent in our most recent challenges, including hatred, domination, brutality and corruption happening in 2021 in our country. In light of this, here are truisms I ask you to consider:
- All isms, divisiveness, hatred and every other symptom of social and emotional illness and associated destruction are the results of one main, deeper root problem: the conditions, conversations, behaviors and experiences that result in an activated inferiority complex within people. When this occurs, people worry they are inherently unworthy. They do not experience healthy belonging and significance, as children and then as adults, in workplaces and community organizations in every setting. From this, they engage in uninterrupted struggles within themselves and with others. Internal struggles within people include depression, anxiety, obesity, stress, indebtedness, disengagement and more. External struggles between people include coercion, harassment, gossip, win/lose thinking and behaving, self-righteousness, separation, hatred, revenge, coercion, greed, deception, apathy, negative judgments, war and much more.
Sometimes outcomes from inferiority feelings present as deadly, as in the case of the killing of George Floyd, and sometimes they span a broad spectrum of behaviors including those relatively benign such as disengagement in the workplace, neglecting to vote and many other ways, obvious and hidden when we diminish potential or are destructive. No matter how struggles appear, they all lead to, and inadvertently contribute to, what becomes life-sucking at best and deadly at worst. As a society, we largely do not foster healthy belonging and significance because of our control-based conditioning in the use of strategies we then passed down each generation, often calling “tough love” believed to be necessary for fostering good citizens. This erroneous belief that contributes to inferiority complex is why we must come to understand these strategies must be dismantled and why and what to replace them with. When people now better, they do better. In order to reverse an activated inferiority complex in individuals and groups or organizations, we must understand what to do instead.
Healthy belonging and significance occur when people are provided conditions that lead to them feeling empowered (they have a voice and influence), lovable (NOT the same as loved); they experience others as curious, kind and mostly receptive, without an agenda to fix, convert, heal or change them. They also feel connected, welcome as an equally important and valued member, and feel the fulfillment of contributing; they have much to offer and others are eager and willing to invite and receive their offerings. During this turbulent historic 21st century, we see instances of healthy belonging and significance in people when they engage in noble, community-building and life-enhancing behaviors, and in contrast, a domino effect of hostile and destructive consequences when healthy belonging and significance are not being experienced.
- The ultimate root causes of the inferiority complex are uses of widely modeled, propagated, upheld and applied control models accepted in almost every setting (including most homes and schools) that create the perfect storm to foster abuses of power that then becomes rooted within people and between people and for which we become inured; numb to their destruction. While some control models are obvious and therefore recognized or at least suspect, such as when we act autocratic including punitive treatment of people, other control tactics at first glance seem harmless and even They are not. These include the use of dangling carrots; incentives and rewards to bribe people into good behavior, bestowing judgments from above such as praise (very different from recognition and encouragement which are crucial) and shaming (criticizing or guilting), with the goal of getting people to please authority figures and become compliant. This also occurs when we enable people; overcompensating and pampering them because of a lack of faith in their capabilities (e.g. anytime one is doing something for someone they can learn and do for themselves, and saying anything people already know). As a society, for centuries people have been so addicted to these forms of extrinsic (or external) motivation; pulling strings as if people are puppets, that we don’t realize the cost of diminishing intrinsic (internal) motivation, increased inferiority complex, and they are destructive wherever they are found.
Without recognition of the harmfulness of these practices within personal and professional settings, many people do not consider dismantling them or replacing them with something effective that does NOT cause consistently destructive and negative side effects we all experience from the control models. They always diminish care of self and others, self-protection and shrink or puffing up with superiority as well as disengagement of many people in life and work initiatives. Destruction is obvious in something like the murder of George Floyd, the incineration of millions of Jews in Germany, and the oppressive behaviors in authoritarian regimes. Destruction is less recognized in common, subtler misuses of power such as child and spousal abuse and neglect, daily inequities between marginalized groups of people (e.g. gender, religion, race, etc.), and in negative, life-sapping deceit occurring regularly in workplaces, churches and much more, where power is not being celebrated, guided and handled thoughtfully or responsibly.
- Misuse of control is a group dynamic for which we ALL (usually unwittingly) contribute and we ALL need to fix together. When it comes to the perpetuation of inferiority complex through control tactics, we are ALL complicit in this until we are NOT. Only by enlarging our understanding of what diminishes human dignity and what nurtures it, only then can our most loving actions become radically different; organically positive. This is why when my friend the former Mayor said, “You need to go in and clean up police departments with your culture model…,” I know from experience that this approach, would NOT get to the most important roots and be less helpful than it sounds. It IS tempting to pull up the part of the weed that is so obviously visible in the garden, without digging out the entire root beneath the surface; we all know that doesn’t work. Digging out the entire root is usually more tedious, time-consuming, and requires patience and thoroughness. We don’t like to do this because it requires we go out of our way where we never imagined we needed to do so, and it also requires we consider our existing societal norms to be out-of-date; something we find distasteful to consider and awkward to navigate as uncharted waters. Yet, we all recognize a beautiful and well-tended garden versus one that is not. We know the best are tended by gardeners who fully commit to weeding and faithfully feeding it until it shows in their outstanding results.
Because common everyday control models are currently widely accepted in our society and do often bring temporary compliance, we need to first recognize these as the ULTIMATE PRIMARY CAUSE behind ALL widespread and recurrent racism, hatred, violence, war, disengagement, righteous win/lose and inequity. We gain that compliance at the cost of encouragement and positive co-creation. We must learn together how to uncover these, dismantle them, rip them out and plant something altogether different than the status quo. Then, when we approach all societal ills, the resolution of such problems comes about organically; as natural as a garden in which weeds no longer exist much less predominate. Positive and life-giving outcomes are then not only possible, they become the new norm. To believe this, people need to experience viscerally the new ideas, the new behaviors and the new results that show up as healing, caring and helpful collaboration.
- We must ALL put ourselves in the SAME boat together. When my Mayor friend made her suggestion about fixing the systemic problems within police departments, I realized this is not how we have succeeded in creating fully transformed, inclusive, caring and contributing individuals and organizations. Exceptional results have always been when stakeholders from every part of a business, school, family or other organization are involved simultaneously. In my own family, this occurred through shared power and decision-making between parents and children, replacement of punishment and bribing with effective alternatives to address misbehavior, and the use of encouragement, training and support in emotional intelligence, trustworthiness, personal responsibility and leadership in all family members, from the earliest age possible.
We once had our youngest child (5 years old) demonstrate leading a family meeting in front of a group of parents and teachers. Not only did the audience see how much most adults underestimate leadership in children and adults, I was able to point out how as a dominant leader mother, I needed to learn to be a better follower to a 5-year old by encouraging and supporting leadership development in my children rather than do the expedient steam-rolling of her as so many are wont to do in the name of efficiency. After all, I’m smarter, bigger and faster at resolving things as do many leaders in business focus on too. A lack of such leader/follower flexibility is a key reason we have so many problems and why companies struggling to be agile and high performing do not know how to overcome barriers because they are human systems barriers. Human systems are how we think, feel, speak, act. Faster is not usually better. Slowing down to speed up is the solution. When children, teens or front-line employees step up without hesitation and make a positive difference, this is thought to be uncommon; exceptional. Occurrences of this are generally lauded because at this time in our history they are still more rare than not. Now if the time to change this perception and reality.
In several comprehensive, multi-year, multi-school reform projects my company delivered to some of the most at-risk schools in the City of St. Louis, we brought our culture transformation process to teachers, school administrators, parents, a neighborhood team AND students all simultaneously in a responsibility-based way of operating. Because of this, everyone came to share a common language, a common set of concepts and tools, and knew how to apply them and be supported in the change process initially and long-term. Eventually, the new ways of thinking and behaving became normalized. Then we helped them with systems integration so what was learned was lived consistently, collectively and sustainably.
I’ll never forget sitting in on a participating St. Louis City family while they conducted one of their first family meetings. The 9th grade son was bringing tools and concepts to the conversation, suggesting a mind trust and healthy venting (tools to stop gossip and resolve issues between people directly), and offering appreciative inquiry questions (asking questions built upon past, present, and desired future results) at another point. These are just a few of 30+ tools the entire family recognized from their training and were able to quickly adopt and utilize. Everyone in such a project grows to have a common language and a common way of understanding and supporting each other to increase personal responsibility, emotional intelligence and care of one another. This teen boy also learned lifelong skills to take forward into his future endeavors. Because of this collective work, a much higher percentage of students at this boy’s high school, stayed in school and graduated, earning my company a Vanguard Award for Innovation in serving in St. Louisans (from the St. Louis Mental Health Board).
When my company works within government, non-profit, or corporate settings, our greatest successes are when our model spans from CEO to front-line staff; with every level of person practicing leading and following flexibility as any new situations require. When ALL people together challenge longstanding foundational beliefs and replace them with new practices that build trust, engagement and alignment together, this is when effective change occurs and lasts. Then, everyone takes responsibility to manage their own relationships, productivity, engagement, and a plan for continuous growth and improvement. They jointly take ownership of the culture as a caring team. This then feeds into their personal lives at home.
- We need a new human systems MINDSET before any changed behaviors are implemented. People naturally and understandably want behavior to change quickly and to identify tangible solutions and adopt tools without delay. Unfortunately, when we do so without first addressing mindset, what happens is that people layer new ideas and tools over destructive and limiting belief systems and then wonder why they don’t work. This leads to the same negative consequences seen when using the control systems because new ideas and tools are still being laid on top of them. This is like planting seeds in contaminated soil. In my work, I caution people to resist bringing in new tools without a thorough dismantling of control-based, extrinsically motivating mindset and practices.
One example of this in my work is that we hold back one of our primary tools called redirecting negative behavior until months after the start of our culture transformation process. This program and the tool taught is an extremely powerful, effective alternative to traditional punishment, bribing or enabling when facing challenging, destructive and negative behavior in others. This is one of our top sellers because almost everyone has one or more people they feel annoyed, angered, hurt, burdened, and insulted by. We delay introduction of this and other tools the same way a wise gardener would remove all weeds and thoroughly prepare the soil first, before planting new seeds. When you change fundamental human systems through dismantling the control mindset first, and replace this with purpose, values and emotionally intelligent thinking and behaving, the vast majority of negative behavior in which people would have otherwise engaged and would have required redirecting are now gone, before the tool is introduced. The opposite is also true. If you apply a new tool quickly without replacing a control-based mindset, it is like planting seeds beside weeds.
Only 8% of the population thinks and values broad systems thinking and is skilled in engineering new systems. Among that 8%, even fewer are focused on developing scalable, digital human systems that create competencies needed for a loving caring community to exist. I am one such human systems developer and I share this not to brag but to help you realize why problems related to racism and other injustices often seem insurmountable, ineffective and too complex or confusing to fully resolve. They require a robust, comprehensive and proven human system model and implementation like the one I have developed. When an Adlerian psychology approach similar to my own approach was used in prison reform in Florida, recidivism (repeat incarceration) went from a national norm of 65% to 4%. We get similar dramatic results from our work too.
- There is real and measurable hope for valid, lasting change. In my work, because we involve entire communities simultaneously (in a stepped-in process with a vertical slice of people participating in one group and then expanded to other groups), people experience comprehensive changes only possible because ALL members within the community became involved and the new systems are integrated into the day-to-day ways of operating whether in the home, community or workplace. There are no privileged elite keepers of the knowledge, for which they lay claim and keep from others. When the garden is weeded and seeded properly like this, amazing and gorgeous results occur because of joint participation which also accelerates expanded potentials in so many ways. Together, everyone is properly supported; aka within a healthy, holistic social model from childhood forward. I urge you to read more about this on my website in our articles section, in my downloadable book, in our videos, interviews on TV, radio and podcasts and in our free events and webinars. I urge you to reach out to me directly. I am Judy Ryan, CEO of LifeWork Systems. I hope this article strikes a chord. This IS the time for systemic change. You need an experienced guide to introduce such a proven, complete system so you can make proven, positive and lasting change. Be mindful to choose a framework that ensures you identify and rip out ALL the relevant, destructive, life-sucking roots and instead helps to create the kinds of conditions and conversations you and your people need and will enjoy going forward, to support life-affirming, life-enhancing and lasting positive results. So have hope, open to the new, and become part of the evolution of change much needed at this time. YOU matter to this process.
Why People Hire Judy Ryan and LifeWork Systems
Business owners, community leaders, and educators hire Lifework Systems because they want the advantages of an extraordinary workplace and recognize a systems approach ensures consistency and sustainability in the transformation process. They know that conscientious employees grow your business and improve your reputation, giving you competitive advantages. We help organizations instill into every person a common language and toolset for how to participate in a responsibility-based Teal workplace. Visit our website at www.lifeworksystems.com, and click the link at the bottom to complete a culture assessment and schedule your first consult to review a report on the health of your workplace culture.