Why Radical Decency Is Even More Essential Now

Teen VolunteerEach day since the new administration entered the White House, questions of personal, cultural, and systemic values have swirled about like so many grains of sand in a tempest. They are unlikely to settle down anytime soon. The winds of change are blowing and it is still unclear where we will land. One thing for certain is that it is a bumpy ride.

On either end of the political spectrum, people have been called to examine where they stand and what they stand up for. Complacency, closed eyes, minds, and hearts are a luxury we no longer have.

Living on a planet that when beheld from above has no clear dividing lines, boundaries or borders, we humans pretend that they exist and allow them to separate us, and crave what others have. Some are willing to kill and die for property and ethos. What if we adopted a belief that embraced multiple philosophies — an “in addition to, rather than instead of” — and a set of filters through which we run our decisions that ask how it will impact the whole, not just our bubble and the people we allow in it?

Philadelphia-based psychotherapist and attorney Jeff Garson, JD, LCSW endorses the practical philosophy known as Radical Decency. In an article in Tikkun Magazine, Garson explains, “Radical Decency is a comprehensive approach to living. It is not about feeling better — or about treating others more decently — or about saving the world. It is about these things. The reason? We are profoundly creatures of habit and, as a result, each area of living is deeply and irrevocably intertwined with the others.â€

And he elaborates, “At its core, Radical Decency grows out of this simple premise: If we whole-heartedly commit to this different way of living, allowing it to guide our day-by-day, moment-by-moment choices, we have a fighter’s chance of leading a better life and more effectively contributing to a better world.â€

Defining Decency

According to Dictionary.com: “conformity to the recognized standard of propriety, good taste, or modesty.†Keep in mind that various cultures have different standards and mores. How then, do we determine what is proper?

What Are the Values By Which You Live?

Deanna was raised by parents who modeled love, kindness, generosity, and volunteerism. They had friends from all different social strata, religions and cultural origin. She witnessed their “love in action” philosophy and consciously chose to emulate them, volunteering at their local hospital and a recycling center in the community in her teens. As a young adult, she marched and rallied for the ERA, the environment, as well as human and animal rights. Her career as therapist, clergy, and journalist now have her on the “front lines”, working with those who are impacted by the state of the world. She uses the concepts embraced by Radical Decency to shape her worldview and inform the steps she takes each day.

On the other end of the spectrum, she observes people who live in fear that there won’t be enough for them, so they are determined to grasp their share and then some. Unable to see beyond their limiting beliefs, they seem to be perpetually distressed. She is bewildered at times when she notices people fouling their own nests, leaving emotional and physical messes for others to clean up and taking little responsibility for the consequences of their actions.

Deanna began to explore what Radical Decency meant to her. Social conscience melded with personal need. Although not totally altruistic, she discovered that when she ‘did good,’ she felt good and it spurred her on to offer more of the gifts she had been given to be of service. Peace and social justice became watchwords for her. Each day as she goes out into the world, she asks herself what difference she can make in the lives of her clients, students, family, friends and even ‘strangers’ she meets. It is, as she has discovered, a conscious choice, rather than an incidental experience.

Are You a Positive Change Agent?

There are numerous opportunities to engage in socially conscious acts.

  • Begin within. Examine your own beliefs. Most arise from family of origin and culture. If they no longer serve, you are at liberty to change them.
  • Cultivate inner peace in the face of external turmoil. Meditation, contemplation, and prayer assist many in finding balance so as not to get swept away in chaos.
  • Develop a philosophy that is inclusive, rather than exclusive. What each of us does has a lasting impact on the entire world. What legacy do you want to leave?
  • Put legs under your values. Be of service. Determine to what area you are drawn. It can be as simple as going grocery shopping for a homebound friend, shoveling the driveway for a neighbor, picking up litter on the sidewalk, volunteering in a soup kitchen, animal shelter, faith community or political committee. It might look like striking up a conversation with a stranger who becomes a friend.
  • Although it isn’t always easy, see those whose opinions vary from yours as valid for them, since if you had their experiences you might hold the same views and take the same actions. If you decide to dialogue with them about differing beliefs, remain open minded. You may learn something about them and yourself.
  • Clean up your side of the street and be in integrity. Walk the talk.
  • Join with kindred spirits whose work is positively world changing. No one is an island and in the presence of others with common goals, anything is possible.

In various cultures, there are greetings that reflect the unity between people.  The Mayan tradition uses the words In Lak’ech Ala K’in which translates to “I am another yourself.â€Â A Sanskrit acknowledgment is Namaste which means, “The Divine in me recognizes the Divine in you.” “Mitakuye Oyasin” in the Lakota language speaks of “All my relations.â€

There is a story that reflects the idea of Radical Decency. A person dies and is met by St. Peter. She asks the guardian at the gate to show her the difference between heaven and hell. She is first ushered into a room that had a long table filled with the most luscious foods imaginable. The aroma was intoxicating and she found herself salivating wildly. She noticed that the people were moaning in pain; starving amid plenty. She asked how that could happen and St. Peter pointed out that each person had a spoon or fork attached to their arms that were too long to be able to scoop up the food and get it into their mouths.

“This is hell,†said her guide.

“Show me heaven,†she begged.

They walked into the next room where she beheld the same kind of table, food, and utensils. These folks were in a celebratory mood, laughing, smiling and well nourished.

“How could this be?†she queried.

He replied, “Don’t you notice that these people had learned to feed each other across the table?â€

Each of us has a place at the table, and we are all responsible for growing and harvesting the food, preparing it, having good table manners and cleaning up afterward. In that way, we can be assured that there is enough for everyone.