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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.

“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.”

Alfred Adler

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.

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.

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.

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:

1. 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, greed, deception, apathy, negative judgments, war and much more.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

This article is published in the column The Extraordinary Workplace in the St. Louis Small Business Monthly,  November 2021

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