Go Deep, Not Thin, to Win
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In the 30 years I have worked as a therapist, I have had intense conversations with CEOs, union leaders, academics, business owners, housewives, geeks and non-geeks, baristas, consultants and unemployed, young and old people, Latinos, African Americans, Asians, and whites; the very wealthy, middle-class, poor, and destitute. I have tried to help, and have helped, thousands of people.
Eleven years ago, I co-founded a non-profit organization committed to building the power of progressives to win. My colleague, Larry McNeil, had been an organizer for 30 years. His practice led him to have thousands of conversations with leaders. We discovered common ground. We were both trying to move people to change, and we both had come to some firm and unshakeable conclusions about the human person. Two paths, same conclusions.
The first axiom to come from this collaboration is that logic, rationality and facts are overrated. If people made personal and political choices in accordance with their objective self-interest and in alignment with objective reality, the current Republican Party wouldn’t have a fraction of its power, global warming would stop, and oil company executives would be sharing jail cells with many of the senior partners of Goldman Sachs. Instead, too many people—citizens—are either passive and cynical or are irrationally drawn to movements and ideologies that seek to create a world directly opposed to their self-interest.
This isn’t a news flash to smart progressives. We know a lot about the power of money and the conservative echo chamber. We also know that people act from wellsprings of emotions, values and non-conscious fears and longings much more than they do from rational calculations of costs and benefits that, in an ideal world, should underlie their relationship to politics and social change.
Our view is that successful leaders, organizations and social movements are doomed unless they fully embrace these insights:
1) People act from their hearts as much or more than their heads and are often unaware that they are doing so;
2) Non-economic needs for meaning, connectedness, recognition, and agency are every bit as important as economic needs, and;
3) Building healthy organizations and mobilizing huge numbers of people to acquire political power require understanding and addressing these “softer” and more intimate longings in every area and at every level of our work.
6 Progressive Biases That Keep Us from Winning
In our experience, progressives can’t seem to shed certain old biases in order to fully explore the consequences of broadening their appreciation of the real needs and interior conflicts that animate human beings. These biases are evident everywhere in our leaders, staffs, members, organizations, and movements:
Bias #1: If you tell people the truth about the true causes of what ails them, they will want to join you in a movement for change.
Unfortunately, there is hardly a shred of evidence that supports this belief and a mountain that challenges it.
Bias #2: You can’t really systematically address people’s needs for recognition, meaning and community until you address their need for economic security.
The psychological literature, as well as the history of social change movements, decisively put the lie to this belief.
Bias #3: The spiritual impulses that animate many people to connect with something bigger than them, something transcendent, have been successfully hijacked by the Christian Right, and thus our only recourse is to redouble our efforts to keep “God” out of politics.
In fact, every spiritual tradition supports a progressive agenda as much or more than a conservative one, and our secularism risks sacrificing connections with millions of open-minded “believers.”