“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 effective and comprehensive improvements in our society, we all must become responsible for recognizing what increases feelings of inferiority and what diminishes them and work to consciously reduce them. Without this, we will not be able to live the primary law of love ‘as naturally as breathing’ 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 is what is happening around racism and all other abuses of power and aggression and why they continue to resurface again and again. 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, so none are overlooked, but rather all of them 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 and exactly how they should be restructured. Racism is one 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 to ask her opinion on how she thought I should approach systemic change. She replied with, “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.
While I know that working with police departments could be part of a systemic reform, 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 not only police brutality but that of 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, sometimes 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; way in which each person interprets events, chooses his or her beliefs and values, makes life decisions, and then seeks to provoke 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 the discouragement inherent within the experience of people feeling shameful, inferior. Because both private logic and inferiority complex are not widely understood, humans enter frequently enter into self-perpetuating loops of negative practices 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 because it is a commitment and practice in which each person regularly considers what consequences their behavior causes others. Despite his brilliant model regarding all of this, when Adler died in 1937, his work still had not became widely spoken of or adopted. I strongly suspect this is due to what I have personally witnessed; that to understand and apply his approach requires a dismantling and re-structuring of common and widely unexamined mindsets and practices. What’s more is that these begin in child-rearing and repeat in our educational and then workplace and community settings. This is why recent authors of a book on Adler (The Courage to Be Disliked) claim he was 100 years ahead of his time.
Outcomes from every win/lose scenario in individuals or group can be attributed to the inferiority complex. Connecting the dots between how we raise up and educate children into citizens must be seen in relationship to the continuous struggles we face as a people, including the volume, scope and volatility of our struggles collectively and individually. Awareness is crucial. Otherwise, widely practiced behaviors continue and perpetuate the same misuses of power and their destructive consequences. This is quite apparent than in our most recent challenges, including recurrent racism, domination, brutality and corruption yet once more increasing. In light of this, here are truisms I ask you to consider:
- Racism and every other symptom of social illness and destruction comes from 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 other community settings. From this, they engage in uninterrupted struggles within themselves and with others. Sometimes this phenomenon presents as deadly, as in the case of George Floyd, and sometimes it spans a broad spectrum of behaviors that seem relatively benign like disengagement in workplaces or neglecting to vote. 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 poor societal practices. This is why it is important to understand how to reverse an activated inferiority complex, and know what to do instead.
Healthy belonging and significance occur when people grow in feeling empowered (they have a voice and influence), lovable (NOT the same as loved); they experience others as receptive to their thoughts and feelings, without a desire to fix, convert, heal or change them. They feel connected, welcome as an equally important and valued member, and feel they are contributing; they have much to offer and others are eager and willing to invite and receive their offerings. During this turbulent historic period, we see instances of healthy belonging and significance in people when they engage in noble, community-building 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 obviously suspect, such as when we act autocratic including punitive, others at first glance seem completely harmless and even helpful. These include the use of dangling carrots; incentives and rewards to bribe people into good behavior, or judgments such as praise and criticism (shaming), to get people to please authority figures. This also occurs whenever 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 that 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) motivators, pulling strings as if people are puppets, we don’t realize the diminishing intrinsic (internal) motivation, increase inferiority complex, and are destructive wherever they are nor stopped.
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 the consistently destructive and negative side effects we all experience regularly. They always diminish care of self and others as well as disengagement in one’s life and work initiatives. Destruction is obvious in 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, religious, race, etc.), and in negative, life-sapping deceit occurring regularly where power is not being 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 fosters or diminishes human dignity and inspires our most loving actions will our outcomes will 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; 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. 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 feeding faithfully, and it shows in their outstanding results.
Because common everyday control models are currently widely accepted in our society, we must first recognize these as the ULTIMATE PRIMARY CAUSE behind ALL widespread and recurrent racism, hatred, violence and inequity. 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 racism and all other 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 and teamwork.
- 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 I have succeeded in creating fully transformed and contributing individuals and organizations in my work. 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, 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 of a 5-year old, practicing the encouragement and support of leadership development in my children. A lack of such leader/follower flexibility is a key reason we have so many problems and why companies struggling to be agile do not know how to overcome barriers to being so. When children, teens or front-line employees step up without hesitation and make a positive difference, this is thought to be uncommon. The occurrence of this is generally lauded as something special because it is relatively rare. This should not be the case. In several school reform projects my company delivered, we brought our culture transformation to teachers, school administrators, parents, a neighborhood team AND students simultaneously so that through training and coaching in a responsibility-based way of operating, everyone came to share a common set of concepts, way of speaking and tools, as well as how to apply and be supported in the entire change process initially and long-term as new thinking and behaving became normalized. Then we helped them with systems integration so what was learned was lived consistently, collectively and effectively.
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 in this family 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 at another point. These are just a few tools the entire family recognized from their training and can quickly adopt and support. Everyone in such a project grows to have a common way of understanding how to create and support personal responsibility and care of one another; in this instance within a student’s learning environment. Because of this collective work, more students at this boy’s particular 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 have been when our model spans from CEO to front-line staff; with every level practicing both leading and following in different aspects of the change process and its continuation. When ALL people together challenge longstanding foundational beliefs and replace them with new practices that build trust 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 without delay. Unfortunately, when we do so without addressing mindset, what happens is that people layer new ideas and tools over destructive and limiting belief systems. This leads to the same negative consequences seen when using the control systems because they are laid on top of them. In my work, I caution people to resist bringing in new tools in without a thorough dismantling of the control mindset.
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. Redirect is an extremely powerful, effective alternative to traditional punishment, bribing or enabling when facing challenging, destructive and negative behavior in others. 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 need redirected initially is 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 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 client sites 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 that is 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 operations. 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. 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, and in our videos, 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 make proven, positive and lasting change. Be mindful to choose a framework that ensures you identify and rip out ALL relevant, offending, life-sucking roots and helps to create the kinds of conditions you and your people need going forward, to support new, life-affirming, life-enhancing and lasting positive results.
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