Us and Them Is Us On A Bell Curve
Picking up from last week’s post, I begin with the basic rule of human relationship. Nobody cooperates with anybody who seems to be against them.
If I began this post by talking about where I stand on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you might take comfort in finding an ally to affirm the rightness of your opinion. Or you might hear what I say as fighting words, and feel compelled by your own values to take up the fight. If I began this post by talking about where I stand on government spending, or taxes, or healthcare, or the environment, there’s a real chance I’d lose you, provoke you or disappoint you.
We have met the enemy, and he is us. – Walt Kelly, Pogo
It’s not that I don’t have opinions on these things, because I do. And it’s not that I don’t think it’s important to speak up sometimes, because I do. It’s just that I know that where there is no cooperation and no trust, there is no hope. That resistance is the consequence of our insistence on letting our divisions take priority over our commonality.
Better, I think, that you get to know me enough to know I’m like you, that I’m not your enemy, that we have much in common, much to discuss, and that we can have a respectful connection. There will always be time for differences. But I choose first to find the common ground.
For example, as a naturopathic physician who values nature’s medicine chest and was trained in the ounces of prevention that are worth pounds of cure, who learned what the alternatives are to giving people drugs and cutting off troublesome body parts, I’m but one of a relatively small group of doctors who seeks fundamental change in the way healthcare is delivered in the United States. All of our institution building and networking and learning about the legal system and political system has had this objective as its focal point. Because we know that to succeed at bringing about that fundamental change, we’re going to have to deal with them.
For us, them is the conventional medical community, the dominant players in the existing system who we tend to view as the eager purveyors of unnecessary drugs and surgery. They have a vested financial interest in maintaining their dominant position in the existing system, and we have a financial interest in opening doors of opportunity in that system for ourselves. But we can only make headway with them when we see their concerns as legitimate, their interests as real as our own, and their position in the system as serving an important purpose at this time. That’s called respect, and in my experience, showing some respect is the best way to get some in return. Respect creates conditions for dialog and dialog allows differences to be explored and eventually resolved.
It’s a mistake, in persuasion, to think that someone has to lose for someone else to win. The basic rule of persuasive speech: If the first thing you say doesn’t connect with someone else’s map of reality, it will interfere with their ability to understand the rest of what you have to say. The best outcomes are win/win outcomes, where everyone involved either loses less than they might have, or gains more than they bargained for, or at minimum, we all get our needs met.
When I use a phrase like we all, it’s because I find it a nice alternative to focusing on and talking about us/them relationships. Growing the we all group is a more effective strategy than us opposing or struggling with them. We all is inclusive instead of exclusive. When I refer to we all, I’m not talking, necessarily, about involving everyone everywhere all the time in my pursuit of a better health care system, or a better environment, or a better world. That would ultimately prove to be a tremendous waste of time and resources.
It’s my experience that change happens not by committee, but by and through pivotal individuals who step up in the presence of key external conditions that demand change, who engage and enroll the people around them until an idea becomes a movement and a movement becomes an inevitability. There may be an entrenched them that is unyeilding in its opposition to what we want.
Still, I would not find much use in trying to leave ‘them’ out of anything, nor would I be too concerned if they opt out of attempts to bring about positive change. That’s because change happens on a bell curve. (See the diagram in the upper right corner of this post.) You have early adopters of an idea, who get it when nobody else does. They are on the bleeding edge of change. Most people think that early adopters are crazy. But there’s a somewhat larger group of people watching them and deciding for themselves, and eventually, if the idea is a good one, they join those on the bleeding edge and it then becomes the leading edge 0f change. A larger group is now watching the enlarged group, and eventually, they join too, until the vast majority of them become us by sharing in the desire for the specific change.
At some point, the only ones left out are the dinosaurs. They don’t get it. They don’t want to get it. They tromp all over everything hoping to slow down or stop change, and don’t notice that what’s changing is their environment as a result of all that tromping around. And the only way they get out of the way is when they die off.
That’s nature’s way. Before too long, the change happens. The key is that when things change for the better, it’s always about ‘enough’ of us, not all of us.’ Which is why building connections, networks, and alliances of resources and help is how we increase the speed of change.
Next week, I’ll take this idea global! Meanwhile, your comments are welcome.