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Jeff Garson
Jeff Garson is a Philadelphia-based attorney and psychotherapist. He offers collaborative, values-based consulting to individuals and businesses as a principal in The Decency Group and writes extensively about Radical Decency, an inclusive approach to change.

Size Matters


by: on January 24th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

  • In 1964, Joe Namath signed a $400,000 contract.  Today, $100 million plus contracts, for second tier sports stars, are commonplace.
  • In 1960, America’s 5 largest companies had, on average, $498 million in profits.  By 2010, that number had grown to $12.2 billion.
  • In 1982 – its first year – the average net worth of Forbes’ list of the 400 wealthiest Americans was $285 million.  By 2008: Almost $4 billion.

Wrapping our brains around the true dimensions of this explosion of private wealth is an extraordinarily difficult task.

Equally hard to understand is a similar explosion in the size and reach of the mainstream culture’s propaganda and reality molding machine; the de-centralized but highly coherent set of values-based messages and cultural cues – compete and win, dominate and control – in which we are immersed.

These are the issues I discuss in this blog.


Salaried Workers — Realities and Possibilities


by: on November 30th, 2013 | Comments Off

(CC-BY-NC-SA by Creative Commons)

Work is so important. For most of us, it takes up the best hours of the great majority of our days. And most everything else gets organized around it.

When it comes to Radical Decency – being habitually decent to our selves, others, and the world – this is a big problem. Why? Because, at work, the culture’s predominant values – compete and win, dominate and control – are typically rehearsed with unrestrained virulence. And there it sits, at the center of our lives, a constant impediment to our ability to give ourselves over to more decent ways of living.

While no one is exempt from this unforgiving equation, it is, without question, much tougher on people with salaried and hourly jobs. In this blog, I address the special challenges these people face and offer a number of strategies to deal with them.

The problem for salaried and hourly workers begins with the most basic notions of freedom. While we seldom think of it in this way, they are, effectively, indentured servants. They work from 9 to 5 – or longer if the boss demands it – get an hour for lunch, 2 vacation weeks, and “x” number of sick days. That’s it. No choice.

Compounding the situation is the highly authoritarian nature of the organizations for which they work. In the workplace, supervisors have enormous control over workers’ lives. And so long as they are making money for the company and are not causing problems for their bosses, their power is virtually unchecked.


Making Radical Decency a Daily Practice


by: on October 14th, 2013 | Comments Off

My recent blog, The Case for Radical Decency, brought the following provocative reaction – the subject of this week’s reflection:

“If ‘picking and choosing’ where to practice Radical Decency is ‘doomed to failure’ does that mean only saints can succeed? How does one incrementally improve?”

“If Radical Decency is doomed to failure unless applied at all times to everything, must I be a Buddhist monk or the equivalent?”

(Credit: Creative Commons)

How this Mindset Traps and Defeats Us

Radical Decency seeks to diverge from the culture’s wildly out of balance emphasis on competitive, win/lose values, advocating a decisive shift in priority toward a more humane set of values. That is its central purpose.

With this in mind, notice the extent to which this self-judgmental approach replicates the very values the philosophy seeks to replace. Tally up the evidence and make a judgment: Have I succeeded in being radically decent – or not? Am I a saint – or a failure?


Holistic Healing — Embracing the Practical and the Radical


by: on September 27th, 2013 | 1 Comment »

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.


Why Republicans Win


by: Jeff Garson on September 4th, 2013 | 4 Comments »

Why do Republicans win so many elections?

For years, this question has puzzled me. At a rational level, their policies clearly favor a wealthy minority and penalize the middle and lower classes; i.e., the vast majority of voters. Nevertheless, Republicans have won 7 of the last 12 national elections. The traditional explanation – more money – has been pretty much debunked, at least at the Congressional and Presidential levels. And the alternative explanation – they’re smarter and tougher – never seemed persuasive. So what is going on? Here’s the explanation that makes sense to me.

How Our Brain Works

Over the course of our 300,000 years as Homo sapiens, we humans have evolved exceedingly effective survival mechanisms including, very importantly, an exquisite attunement to one another. While we were weaker and slower, we were instantly able to understand the meaning of a fellow hunter’s head nod or change of expression, at 50 yards. Living as hunter/gatherers – our reality for all but the last 10,000 years – this ability was key to our evolutionary success, the result being that we are fundamentally affiliative beings, wired to be in intimate connection with, and to care for, one another.

But this is not the full story. Like other mammals, we also have a second emergency system: Fight or flight. Because it is designed to deal with mortal danger, our fight/flight brain is fast, 10 times faster than our thinking brain. A vehicle cuts across your lane without warning, and what happens? You swerve, superfast – your fight or flight brain in action. Only then do you realize that a car cut in front of you – your thinking brain.


Making Broadcast News More Radically Decent


by: on August 19th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

Radical Decency focuses on replacing the value system, predominant in our culture – compete and win, dominate and control – with a new set of values: Respect, understanding, empathy, acceptance, appreciation, fairness, and justice. To succeed in this daunting task, we are challenged to apply these values in every relationship from the most intimate to the most public and political. Adopting this approach, things that are easy to overlook become more visible including, very importantly, the quality of more remote interactions that vitally affect our lives.

When this different values-based focus is directed toward the broadcast news media, it is just stunning to realize how dismal its “normal” ways of interacting are – if the goal, in Radical Decency terms, is to cultivate a meaningful and mutually respectful dialogue. Quite simply, listening and responding isn’t the goal. Instead, the participants are collecting ammunition so that, as soon as the other person stops talking – or sooner, since interruptions are chronic – they can fire back, reiterating why they are right and he or she is wrong.

Credit: Creative Commons.

Indeed, the typical “conversation” is so far gone that candidates eagerly seek coaching on how to dominate the agenda, ignoring questions and systematically returning to their pre-planned talking points. And, when it comes to “candidate debates,” an added goal is to interject carefully rehearsed zingers, designed to make the other candidate look like a loser. In other words, the self-conscious goal is to avoid any meaningful interaction at all.

It is easy to see why even the best-intentioned politicians would feel trapped within this system. Failing to play the game, the next election as well as their credibility as effective and reliable political operatives would be at great risk. So while I have deep misgivings about the choices our mainstream politicians make, I have some sympathy for the dilemma they would face if they sought to change the rules of the game.


The Case for Radical Decency


by: on August 5th, 2013 | 9 Comments »

Have you ever felt that the social justice work you’re involved in is merely addressing symptoms rather than the underlying cause of what ails us?

That’s what I started to worry after forty years of engagement in many creative and inspiring initiatives as a community-minded attorney, psychotherapist, and social activist. Increasingly I found myself yearning for a way to meaningfully challenge the deeper cultural forces that are creating an ever coarsening, unjust, and inequitable world.

At its core, the problem we face is values-based. There is a specific set of values that drives decision-making in virtually every area of our lives and, so long as they predominate, we will never meaningfully diverge from our current course. The sensible response? To embrace a very different set of values that I call “decency”: Respect; understanding and empathy; acceptance and appreciation; fairness and justice. And to practice them “radically”: At all times and in every area of living.

I’d like to make the case for Radical Decency as an approach to living that speaks with special force to the central challenge we face – in this time and place – as we seek to create better lives and a better world.