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 all of 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.

Thus, seeking to act differently at home but not at work, or in politics but not in our self-care, we fatally underestimate the extent to which the culture’s indecent values – its predominant habits of living – insinuate themselves into the overall texture of our lives. When we focus our healing efforts on a single area of living, these mainstream values, continuing to operate elsewhere without meaningful challenge, inexorably infiltrate and subvert our more limited islands of decency.

For this reason, healing needs to be “holistic”; a concept that many healers embrace, at least in principle. The problem, however, is that in most cases they fail to follow through on its implications.

Holistic healing typically refers to “mind, body, and spirit”. It is an approach that focuses on the individual as a discrete and separate entity, mastering what is going on within the four walls of our body. Doing so, it fails to account for the fact that we don’t live solely, or even primarily, inside our bodies and brains.

To the contrary, the deeper truth about our biology is that, notwithstanding important dispositional aspects of our personality, we are, at our core, relational beings. Everything a baby becomes – the way its thinks, feels, and self-regulates – is fundamentally molded by interactions with its primary caregivers. Throughout our lives, the people we live with and the social contexts in which we exist are the primary drivers of our evolution, growth, and change. In short, it makes no sense to think about a single brain in isolation.

To account for these contextual realities we need to add two additional dimensions to our understanding of holistic healing – “the practical” and “the radical”.

The Practical

Our healing strategies need to fully account for our need to effectively negotiate the world as it is – “the practical.” Cognitive insight and skill – meditation – increased body awareness – these initiatives can be extremely helpful. But standing alone, they are incomplete. Equally important are our efforts to carve out a place of reasonable stability and satisfaction, at work and in the larger world. And in this area, the tools offered by mainstream healers are far too tepid.

The Radical

Because we live in a world that is endemically indecent, simply fitting in better – the practical – is not enough. Why? Because fitting in requires us to play by the rules of the mainstream culture, with all of its spirit-draining demands. We also need to be active agents in molding the environments in which we live – “the radical.”

Applying these concepts

Money offers an excellent example of how “the practical” and “the radical” might be operationalized in a truly holistic healing program. Few areas are more emotionally fraught or practically consequential. And yet notice how the relevant “healers”- that is, the people who purportedly offer help with this issue- are isolated from one another.

You can talk to a therapist about your money issues but most will quickly admit that they have no particular sophistication around its practical aspects. On the other hand, there is an endless supply of financial experts, ready to advise you on how to manage your money. But these people are just as forthright in telling you that they don’t deal with the murky world of emotions.

What is needed, instead, is an approach to money that integrates the various healing perspectives. Suppose, for example, a couple planning to write a will began with a coaching session to deal with the emotional issues that arise in this context – with, perhaps, the attorney or financial planner present. Alternatively, suppose the attorney consulted with a therapist prior to meeting with the couple? The benefits to the couple are obvious.

Equally important are the ways in which the perspectives of the professionals would expand and enrich each other. Integrating their services, the lawyers and financial experts would be far more actively engaged in the emotional aspects of healing and growth (mind, body, and spirit). And, in their side, the therapists would get invaluable, on the job training in the practical aspects of financial planning and money management (the practical).

Then, if their approaches were grounded in a wholehearted commitment to decency in every aspect of life – Radical Decency’s fundamental prescription for meaningful change – the contribution of each would also invite clients to become active agents in molding the environments in which they live (the radical).

Here’s how that would work.

Steeped in this values-based perspective, the financial experts would shift away from their profession’s mainstream norms that push preservation of wealth and maximization of income as the only legitimate priorities and are utterly indifferent to the larger social implications of clients’ choices. This might well lead to a discussion of socially conscious choices as a consumer and investor, not out of some theoretical do-gooder agenda, but instead as a way in which clients could sensibly extend their decency practice.

On the therapists’ side, the shift would be equally dramatic. In their profession the current, mainstream norms are even more pernicious, ruling out any active support and guidance around clients’ detailed financial choices at all. However, collaborating with the financial experts and with a radically decent mindset, they would become active participants in the dialogue about their clients’ choices as consumers and investors. They would be able to add their emotional wisdom to the conversation around these and a variety of other “practical” and “radical” issues.

Jeff Garson is a Philadelphia-based attorney, psychotherapist, and activist. A principal at the Decency Group, offering collaborative, values-based consulting to individuals and businesses, he writes extensively about Radical Decency, an inclusive approach to change. You can contact him at wjgarson@comcast.net or www.radicaldecency.com.


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