How Will We Keep Drama From Ending Our Civilization?
Dr. Nate Regier is the co-founder, owner and chief executive of Next Element, a global advisory firm specializing in leadership communication.
Every day I think we’ve reached the limit of how much drama we will see in politics. And the next day it escalates. I specialize in drama and I’m learning new things from watching our politicians. Here are some things I never thought I’d see that take drama to a whole new level.
- Public denial of facts that can be proven with public records
- Use of social media to discuss highly sensitive political content
- Complete disregard for civility, boundaries, rules of etiquette
- Politicians publicly justifying local terrorism, racism, xenophobia, and ethnic cleansing
- An assault on logic and reason
In his book, Deep Truth, author Gregg Braden maps the rise and fall of the civilizations in human history. In my book, Conflict Without Casualties, I showed parallels between Braden’s cycles, and the way conflict is handled by humans on a daily basis. We call it the Compassion Cycle. It’s a process of how humans struggle with each other to survive and thrive.
All human civilizations have followed the same trajectory. They start in a state of extreme vulnerability to the environment. Humans have an amazing capacity for openness, a state of transparent vulnerability where we connect with each other to ensure safety and survival. The next stage is that of curious exploration and problem-solving, called Resourcefulness. Humans are innovative creatures that want to solve problems, like reliable food and water supplies, shelter and comfort from the elements, or safety from predators. This paves the way for the next stage, the quest for predictability and consistency. The next human capacity, Persistence, ushers in the status quo. Humans like stability, so they establish norms, rules, traditions to ensure that this stability continues.
Status quo (Persistence), while providing the benefits of predictability and consistency, has several liabilities. The first is that status quo is extremely energy-intensive. Maintaining and improving a way of life requires increasing resources. Change is a constant, resisting it takes energy. Civilizations become more and more hungry for resources as they work harder and harder to maintain the status quo.
Openness creates safety where people can be vulnerable and transparent and share their real fears and concerns. It accepts people as equals.
The second liability with the status quo is that it’s not open. This means that it resists change. Variation is a threat. Diversity represents an inconsistency. Anything that gets in the way of business, as usual, is a threat.
Here’s where things break down according to Braden. Every civilization prior to ours has crashed and burned because of one or both of the liabilities of the status quo. Either they fail to adapt to a changing world, or they kill each other in an effort to protect their way of life. In both cases, they depart from the Compassion Cycle into unhealthy, adversarial behaviors. They struggle against each other instead of with each other. This is Drama. This is a civilization ceasing to be civil.
I agree with Braden and others that our civilization is at significant crossroads, approaching a point of no return if we don’t change something. Here are the signs.
- Extreme polarization with an us vs. them mentality
- Intensified, critical levels of conflict over access to natural resources, all in the name of protecting our way of life
- Willingness to use violence to eradicate diversity and threats, even if that means increased risk to our own citizens
- Justification abandons effectiveness, reason, or logic
The problem is simple in theory. Persistence lacks openness. If taken to an extreme, persistence morphs into persecution. When humans become persecutors, they lose all ability to think clearly, think long-term, think collaboratively, think big-picture. In fact, they lose the ability to think at all because decision-making is completely subject to a reptilian-brain version of fear.
The solution is simple in theory. Return to openness. Each of the three Compassion Skills is necessary, but not sufficient, for optimum functioning and healthy conflict. Each one has a place, and each one becomes a liability when overused or misused.
Openness creates safety where people can be vulnerable and transparent and share their real fears and concerns. It accepts people as equals. Resourcefulness is where reason and logic are employed to solve problems collaboratively and with a long-term perspective. Persistence is where higher-order values, ethics, justice, morality, and civility are upheld.
This is the nature of America’s Constitution and founding principles. And it doesn’t end there. It’s critical to return to Open again where we check in to see how it’s all working and how we are all getting along.
The calls for Openness are getting louder and louder amidst the extreme persecuting we see in politics: transparency, honesty, empathy, compassion are what’s missing and what’s needed to keep our civilization from going extinct.
Openness is the most vulnerable and scary of the three compassion skills. It takes more courage than blowing yourself up. It takes more guts than defying anyone who questions you. And it takes a ton more integrity than throwing your opponents under the bus on social media.