Radical Decency "Reflections" explore the philosophy’s application in specific areas of living - from the most personal and intimate to the most public and political.

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Radical Decency -- What is it; How it Works

Reflection 9: Across the Board Decency by Jeff Garson
Radical Decency is a comprehensive approach to living. It is: Broad – supporting decency to our selves, others and the world; Deep – extending to every area of living and every interaction; and Integrated – with no area being optional ...

Reflection 13: Radical Decency Is Its Own Reward by Jeff Garson
Alan died a few weeks ago. He was a remarkable person, devoted to his family and friends; active throughout his legal career in efforts to improve the lives of disenfranchised people. He will be missed. At his funeral, his brother remembered his trip ...

Reflection 17: Decency Defined by Jeff Garson
“Decency” is a useful summarizing term, evoking certain attitudes and behaviors, and disqualifying others. But Radical Decency’s goal is broad and ambitious: To provide a more humane, orienting frame of reference for handling the endless ...

Reflection 27: The Case for Radical Decency by Jeff Garson
I came of age in the Civil Rights era, a time when people of dignity and vision set an agenda of greater decency, fairness and justice – and perceptibly moved the needle of public policy in that direction. An abiding gift from those years is my ...

Reflection 28: An Aspirational Approach to Living by Jeff Garson
The Case for Radical Decency, a recently published blog, brought the following provocative and thoughtful reaction – the subject of this week’s Reflection: “If ‘picking and choosing’ where to practice Radical Decency is ‘doomed to fail ...

Reflection 54: Being Radical -- Three Key Points by Jeff Garson
As a proponent of Radical Decency, I am suggesting two things: (1) Make decency a priority in your life; and (2) apply it radically. In another Reflection, I break “decency” down into a detailed set of attitudes and behaviors, the intent being ...

Reflection 78: The Space Between by Jeff Garson
Fully understanding the implications of Radical Decency requires us to continually re-visit three issues: 1.   The seemingly endless ways in which the values of the mainstream culture –compete and win, dominate and control – insinuate ...

Reflection 81: Being Radical -- An Expanded Perspective by Jeff Garson
About 12 years ago, my preoccupation as a writer and activist was on trying to understand why my two areas of interest, social justice and personal growth, seemed to operate in different worlds, with only haphazard overlap. It was then that I had a ...

Cultural Influences (the "Here")

Reflection 1: Our Propaganda Saturated Pop Culture: An Example by Jeff Garson
I saw a movie a few days ago called Extraordinary Measures. At the end I had a sudden sense of clarity about what had just happened to me. I would sum it up as being seduced – and appalled at my own easy seduction. The movie was about a father ...

Reflection 4: Perspectives on Morals and Ethics by Jeff Garson
I have always been troubled by what passes for moral and ethical guidance in our culture.  I remember being in Church, as a 15 year old, and hearing the minister say “love thy fellow man.” I also remember thinking, it’s now 11:30 am and he did ...

Reflection 8: Why We Aren’t Good Students; Why It Matters by Jeff Garson
When I went back to social work school in 2000, it had been 32 years since my college graduation. One of the first articles I read discussed social construction as an analytic tool. I found its approach fresh and exciting. Then I learned that the art ...

Reflection 14: Dying – and Our Epidemic of Immortality by Jeff Garson
The goal of Radical Decency is to be decent to our self, others, and the world, at all times, in every context, and without exception. But across-the-board decency – as opposed to pick-and-chose decency – is impossible if our habitual beliefs and ...

Reflection 16: Mainstream Thinking – The Tyranny of Opinion and Judgment by Jeff Garson
One key area we tend to gloss over as we seek to craft more nourishing and generative ways of operating in the world is how we think.  This may seem like a theoretical issue, but it isn’t.  Our habitual, cultural conditioned ways of thinking ...

Reflection 22: Consumerism -- and the Passivity it Breeds by Jeff Garson
The predominant culture relentlessly promotes two things. One is economic success. Endless cues, incentives and sanctions push us prepare for a career as we grow up and push us to devote enormous amounts of energy to it, when we come of age. The ...

Reflection 25: The Vise of Money by Jeff Garson
Money is rivetingly important. What topic is more shrouded in secrecy, or more fraught with emotion? Some years ago Madonna had a filmmaker record her life. She told him everything was fair game. He could film her having sex. He could film her going ...

Reflection 29: Losing/Revitalizing Our Communal Roots by Jeff Garson
By 1993, after 23 years in Philadelphia, I had sunk deep roots. I was active on numerous nonprofit boards in the Jewish, legal, and civic worlds. My wife and I had lots of acquaintances, mostly through our professional and volunteer activities. We be ...

Reflection 31: Perfectionism by Jeff Garson
One troubling aspect of psychotherapy is its focus on symptoms, rather that causes. Depression and related conditions, for example, consume 9 different DSM categories and more than 30 subcategories. And while many clients are chemically prone to ...

Reflection 36: Indecency – A Historical Overview by Jeff Garson
Through virtually all of our 6 million years of existence as a distinct line of primates and 300,000 years as Homo sapiens, the rhythm of our lives was dictated by the physical world. We foraged and hunted; in the winter we sought warmth and shelter ...

Reflection 40: Size Matters by Jeff Garson
In 1964, Joe Namath signed a $400,000 contract. It was huge news. 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, ...

Reflection 42: It’s Not As Bad As You Think – It’s Worse by Jeff Garson
I thought that – after six plus decades of living, two careers, and innumerable experiences in both the public and private sectors – my capacity for surprise at the depth of our moral and intellectual corruption had played itself out. Then, I ...

Reflection 51: Monumental Self-Absorption by Jeff Garson
As we got acquainted with our Novgorod guide, during our trip to Russia a few years ago, she mentioned that she taught world history. Right away I knew what she meant. Her history course went all the way back to “the beginning,” to the “dawn of ...

Reflection 58: Infiltration and Co-Optation -- The Disease That Ails Us by Jeff Garson
One of our biggest challenges, as we seek to craft more effective strategies for living more decently, is to understand the precise nature of the problem that makes this seemingly straightforward goal so difficult. For starters, we need to understand ...

Reflection 68: Massive Boundary Confusion by Jeff Garson
We live in a world of systems and systems, by their very nature, find ways to perpetuate themselves and to extend and deepen their reach. Given the cultural reality in which we must operate, this fact takes on special significance if we hope to ...

Reflection 80: Derailing Change -- Domestication and Marginalization by Jeff Garson
When it comes to social change work in the larger culture, one thing I have noticed over the years is a process that I call domestication and marginalization. Here’s how it works. Really good people, concerned about an important issue, create ...

Visioning the Cure (the "There")

Reflection 32: Being the Person I Hope to Become – My Personal Guide to Living by Jeff Garson
There are two aspects to Radical Decency: Be “decent”: Respectful, understanding and empathic, accepting and appreciative, fair and just, see Reflection 17, What Is Decency?; and Do it “radically” – at all times and in every area of ...

Reflection 43: Radical Decency in Business: A Fairy Tale by Jeff Garson
Once upon a time . . . A group of friends stumbled upon a smart iconoclastic writer, Daniel Quinn, who told this story. As a struggling author in the 1980s, he, his wife, and three colleagues started a newspaper in rural New Mexico. The paper was ...

Reflection 50: Love, Faith and Values by Jeff Garson
I find writing about love confusing. The word is used so in many different contexts, to describe so many different states of mind. Bringing clarity to this multiplicity of meanings and uses has always seemed a daunting challenge. Further ...

Reflection 56: Religion: Debasement, Inspiration, Lessons Learned by Jeff Garson
The philosopher Charles Taylor provided this insight that has deeply affected my view of the world: Just because we are continually confronted with debased versions of an idea doesn’t mean the idea itself is necessarily debased. It may be but, then ...

Reflection 59: Happiness by Jeff Garson
Here is a settled thought that a lot of thinking and life experience has led me to: Making happiness your life goal is a self-defeating proposition. Indeed, if that is your central preoccupation, two unfortunate things are likely to result. First ...

Getting from "Here" to "There" -- Key Ideas

Reflection 19: Wisdom Stretching -- As a Way of Life by Jeff Garson
Most approaches to living put a priority on one area of living over others. The mainstream culture, for example, puts financial (and physical) security first, making work the priority. We stay late at the office or go in on weekends because we ...

Reflection 21: Theory Matters by Jeff Garson
We live in a world where theory has a bad name. In business, the mainstream rhetoric emphasizes decisive action: “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.” A one- page summary is the preferred method of communication while a lengthier analysis, offer ...

Reflection 24: Holistic Healing – Embracing the Practical and the Radical by Jeff Garson
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 that. Moreover, a central premise is that each of these areas is mutual ...

Reflection 37: Challenging Our Comfort Zones by Jeff Garson
I vividly remember my first encounter with Howard Lesnick, over 40 years ago. Pacing ominously (to me) behind a podium, starring threateningly at a seating chart (“please God, don’t let him call on me!”), Professor Lesnick intoned “Hall, ...

Reflection 48: Naming A New “It” by Jeff Garson
My friend Gary Gray says a lot of smart things. A few years ago he described how women, in the 1960s, would meet to talk about “it.” They knew something was deeply wrong with the cultural roles to which they were consigned but couldn’t quite ...

Reflection 65: Staying In Kindergarten by Jeff Garson
I am 65 years old and have been an active observer and participant in the political process for 50 years. I think I know a lot – and maybe I do. But I recently read psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind. Haidt’s analysis and my ...

Reflection 77: Process and Possibility -- Moving Beyond Our Labels by Jeff Garson
We live in a society in which we are drenched in, and defined by, labels – both by others and by our selves. We are white, black, or Hispanic; upper, middle or working class; Catholic, Muslim, Evangelical, or Jewish; liberal, conservative, or ...

Reflection 85: I Am Loved by Jeff Garson
Fully realized, Radical Decency brings with it a decisive divergence from the "compete and win, dominate and control" mindset that permeates our culture, systemically replacing it with an alternative set of values. The fundamental reason for making ...

Getting from Here to There: Personal Growth and Healing

Reflection 5: Radical Decency Guideposts for Healers by Jeff Garson
Radical Decency challenges us to continuously consider three realms – our selves, others, and to the world – in everything we do.  We need to identify processes that are problematic in each of these areas, understand their impact, and craft ...

Reflection 11: Recognizing, Naming and Valuing Difference by Jeff Garson
I went to high school in the early 1960s, a different era – before the Stonewall riots and the women’s movement. So it never occurred to me that Miss Dodge and Miss Wheaton, teachers who walked from their apartment to school each day, were ...

Reflection 26: Our Primary Emotional Tapes – A Case Study by Jeff Garson
It had snowed in Philadelphia the night before. When I arrived at my office, shortly after noon the next day, the driveway and parking areas were unplowed; no access. With my first client due to arrive in less than an hour, I called the landlord ...

Reflection 30: In Defense of Our Troubling Values by Jeff Garson
Central to Radical Decency is the belief that: A specific set of values – compete and win, dominate and control – are pre-eminent in our culture and, thus, wildly over-emphasized in our day by day choices; That the result is incalculable ...

Reflection 41: Safety and Aliveness by Jeff Garson
Life is an impossible deal.  We arrive here – and leave – through no choice of our own. While we are here, there is no roadmap for what to do, or – if there is – we have no idea what the right one is out of all the ones being proposed.  And ...

Reflection 46: Derailing Decency to Self by Jeff Garson
A reaction I sometimes hear to Radical Decency is that its prescription – decency to your self, others, and the world, at all times and in every context – is noble, but utopian and impractical. The criticism is misguided. Why? Because it fails ...

Reflection 47: Operationalizing One-ness of the Universe by Jeff Garson
In My Stroke of Insight, the neuroscientist, Jill Bolte Taylor, described the reality she inhabited after suffering a massive stroke that shut down the left side of her brain. Given over entirely to her right hemisphere, she was aware only of a field ...

Reflection 62: A New Direction for the New Year, A Request for Help by Jeff Garson
I want to give you a heads up about my planned change in emphasis in the New Year.  I have now been writing Reflections, week by week, for 1½ years and the project has been wonderfully productive, allowing me to understand Radical Decency, its ...

Reflection 63: Learning Mandarin by Jeff Garson
Dale, my wife, and I were hiking the desert in Sedona, Arizona some years ago. Finding a cozy crevice in the rocks, we watched the sun set. Dale was enraptured, seemingly breathing in this glorious moment with every cell in her body. Me? I liked it ...

Reflection 74: Radical Decency -- A User's Guide by Jeff Garson
Radical Decency is an idea that began coming together, for me, in the summer of 2000.  With a long history of involvement with both social justice and personal growth activities – and too much time on my hands (I was between jobs) – I began to ...

Getting from Here to There: Men, Women, and Patriarchy

Reflection 18: Men and Women/ Similarities and Differences by Jeff Garson
Radical Decency is a relational philosophy, challenging us to be in mutual and authentic contact with our self, others, and the world. For this reason, it impels us to be tireless detectives. Why? Because a deepening understanding of our feelings and ...

Reflection 57: Men – We Make Complete Sense! by Jeff Garson
Into my 40s, I did what a lot of men do. I kept my feelings mostly to myself – except with my girl friends and, then, my wife. That said, my way of sharing with my romantic partners was not very skillful, to say the least. I was able to express ...

Reflection 61: Women, Boundaries, and Sex by Jeff Garson
Radical Decency was created to answer this question: Living in an endemically indecent world, how can we create better lives and meaningfully contribute to a better world? In response, it offers – not an answer – but a process: Of reflection ...

Reflection 69: Moving Beyond Patriarchy by Jeff Garson
One of the mindsets, promoted by the mainstream culture to marginalize and disempower change efforts, is an emphasis on “diagnosis” of problems and a corresponding lack of attention to “cure.”  Think for example about the basic architecture ...

Reflection 72: Men's Moment(s) of Truth by Jeff Garson
We live in a world in which a specific set of values – compete and win, dominate and control – are greatly over emphasized.  And the pattern of interacting that our obsession with these values sets up is authoritarian, with one person (or group ...

Getting from Here to There: Relationship

Reflection 3: Why Can't You Do the Dishes by Jeff Garson
Central to Radical Decency’s approach to living – its vital pulse – are habits of mind that allow us, in every interaction, to express our needs in constructive ways and, equally, to hear the needs of others. Because we are innately empathic ...

Reflection 10: Romantic Love: Making What’s Good Better by Jeff Garson
Reflection #3, Why Can’t You Do the Dishes, discusses how couples can make different and better choices when they are fighting; how, instead of talking about what triggered the fight – whether the keys should be hung on the hook; whether your ...

Reflection 33: Couples Work – What It Is, Why It’s Important by Jeff Garson
We live in a world that heavily supports and promotes marriage. And, happily, this is one instance in which our culture’s values can support us in doing important, life-affirming work – if we are lucky enough to stumble onto this insight. In this ...

Reflection 38: Three Dimensions of Love by Jeff Garson
As a psychotherapist in private practice, coaching couples is one of my abiding passions. Indeed, it was the transformative couples work that my wife, Dale, and I did in the 1990s that was the catalyst for each of us becoming a therapist. Intimate ...

Reflection 44: Intimate vs. Strategic Relationships by Jeff Garson
A gifted supervisor – when you can find one – is one of the great benefits of being a psychotherapist. I was lucky enough to find one in Carol Brockmon. One highly useful tool she introduced me to was the distinction between intimate and ...

Reflection 53: Effective Fighting: Practice Pointers for Couples by Jeff Garson
When my wife and I started couples therapy in the mid 1990s, after 10 years of marriage and almost 50 years of living, our gifted therapist, Sunny Shulkin, described the way most couples fight. She speaks and he listens – but in a special way ...

Reflection 82: Intimacy -- Not Changing the Subject by Jeff Garson
Make no mistake about it. The mainstream culture’s way out of balance emphasis on the values I call “compete and win, dominate and control” thoroughly infiltrates our most intimate relationships. At one level, this reality is reasonably well ...

Reflection 84: Loving Intimacy -- The 4 Voices by Jeff Garson
A husband and wife are lying in bed. She says, with some tension in her voice: “You work too much. You’re always busy and pre-occupied. I want you to spend more time with me.” His reply, laced with barely suppressed annoyance and ...

Getting from Here to There: Work and Business

Reflection 15: Social Justice -- Focusing on Business by Jeff Garson
“Compete and win, dominate and control” – the values that predominate in our culture – are the driving force behind an endlessly complicated system that organizes our day-by-day choices and, thus, our lives. And, as I often point out, systems ...

Reflection 23: Radical Decency in Business – The Nitty-Gritty by Jeff Garson
Two key perspectives inform my thinking about Radical Decency: Because work is the most powerful driver of the values that predominate in our culture, it is also the best point of leverage for change. If we can create new, habitual ways of ...

Reflection 34: Triumphal Business and the Demise of Checks and Balances by Jeff Garson
In the early 1980s, I was an attorney deeply immersed in the EPIC bankruptcy. Here’s what happened: A smart promoter bought undervalued model homes in housing developments, mortgaged them, and sold the mortgages in bulk to Savings and Loans, the ...

Reflection 35: Salaried Workers – Realities and Possibilities by Jeff Garson
Work is so important. For most of us, it takes up the best hours of the 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 – ...

Radical 39: A Radically Decent Business – Lessons Learned by Jeff Garson
Work dominates our lives. It consumes the best hours of the majority of our days – for most of our adult lives. It is also the place where the wildly overstated values that dominate our culture find their most unrestrained expression. For these ...

Reflection 52: Marketing Radical Decency by Jeff Garson
Radical Decency is an action and process oriented approach to living. It is not based on an a priori set of beliefs about the nature of reality. Instead, it is grounded in our biological limitations and potentialities and, then, works with these ...

Reflection 66: Doing Better At Work, In Authoritarian Relationships by Jeff Garson
We live in a culture in which “relationship” tends to be equated with “intimate relationship.”  Thus, an array of family and couples therapies and an endless stream of self-help books, teach us how to more constructively interact with our ...

Reflection 70: Money and Economics -- How Unexamined Structures Mold Our Lives by Jeff Garson
The Reflection series has two overarching goals.  The first is to understand where we are now – a goal grounded in the belief that effective prescriptions for change can only be crafted if we thoroughly understand the many forces that keep us ...

Getting from Here to There: Politics and Social Reform

Reflection 2: Why Republicans Win by Jeff Garson
Why do Republicans win so many elections? For years, this question has puzzled me.  Their policies so clearly favor a wealthy minority and penalize the middle class as well as the poor; i.e., the vast majority of voters. Nevertheless, theory ...

Reflection 6: How the Good Guys Miss Each Other by Jeff Garson
Radical Decency grew out of my journey with the Eccoes Foundation, an organization my wife and I started in 2000. With our long involvement with personal growth and social justice causes, we were puzzled about how little overlap there was between the ...

Reflection 7: A Comprehensive and Inclusive Approach to Change by Jeff Garson
In this Reflection, I discuss key ways in which Radical Decency supports a more integrated and effective approach to change. ____________________ Radical Decency is a values-based call to action. It invites us to organize our lives around a set of ...

Reflection 12: Radical Decency in Politics -- Pitfalls and Possibilities by Jeff Garson
Radical Decency’s goal is to systematically replace the values that predominate in our culture – compete and win, dominate and control – with a new set of values: Respect Understanding and empathy Acceptance and appreciation Fairness ...

Reflection 20: Social Justice – The Third Rail of Radical Decency by Jeff Garson
When it comes to our self and our intimate relationships, many of us approach Radical Decency with curiosity, even eagerness. But when it comes to social justice, things are different. Confronting the grim, unforgiving face of poverty and ...

Reflection 45: Re-visioning Social Change Work by Jeff Garson
From my teenage years forward, I have been puzzling over this question: Is there an effective strategy for creating a more decent, just and equitable world that I can be a part of? Preoccupied with this issue I became a lawyer, acquiring – so I ...

Reflection 49: Politics: Systems Analysis, Values Response by Jeff Garson
We exist within systems. The environment, the culture, our families and romantic relationships, even the cacophony of voices in our heads – all of these are systems. So, needless to say, the principles that govern the way systems operate are ...

Reflection 55: Being Decent To A Hitler by Jeff Garson
In this Reflection, I focus on the more practical side of Radical Decency, working with an example that is regularly raised by readers: How to react to a public person who you are deeply at odds with, in a world in which demonization of political ...

Reflection 60: The (Not So) Mysterious Absence of Public Role Models by Jeff Garson
If we hope to craft more effective change strategies, we need to come to grips with the dynamism of the predominant culture. A marvelously intricate and evolving system, it perpetuates and entrenches itself in so many ways. Some of these processes ...

Reflection 73: Making Broadcast News More Radically Decent by Jeff Garson
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 ...

Reflection 75: Toward a More Civil Political Conversation, Part 1 by Jeff Garson
 This Reflection is part 1 of a two-part essay offering a program for creating a more civil political dialogue, across partisan lines.  This Reflection provides a goal for the work, and a series of premises and orienting mindsets upon which my ...

Reflection 76: Toward a More Civil Political Conversation, Part 2 by Jeff Garson
This is the second part of a two-part essay that sets forth a program for creating a more civil political dialogue, across partisan lines. The first part, Reflection #75, offered goals for the work, and a series of premises and orienting mindsets ...

Contributing Authors

Reflection 64: Social Justice and Personal Growth by Jeff Garson
This Reflection was written by Eric Hoffman, a philosophy professor at St. Joseph's University. The Essential Experience Workshop, referenced in the Reflection, was brought to Philadelphia by Eric and his wife, JoAnne Fischer, in 1989. Offered 4 time ...

Reflection 67: Jesus -- A Story by Jeff Garson
Craig Eisendrath – a close friend – is a scholar, social activist and author.  Out of a lifetime of reflection and dedicated work at the front lines of social justice, a number of heroes have emerged for Craig, including Dag Hammarskjold and ...

Reflection 71: Dad As An Exception by Jeff Garson
This Reflection was written by Jeremy Garson, a 3d year law student at the University of Michigan Law School.  Jeremy is an Articles Editor for the Law School's Journal of Law Reform. ____________________            I recently stumbled ...

Reflection 79: The Lust for Certainty vs. The Risk of Trust by Jeff Garson
Occasionally, but far too infrequently, I am able to share a Reflection – written by someone else – that highlights an important aspect of Radical Decency, in a special way. This week, I am pleased to offer the following piece by Alan Jones ...

Reflection 83: Listening to the "Bad" Guys by Jeff Garson
The author of this Reflection is Jeremy Garson. Born in 1987, he is a Millennial. Jeremy is recent graduate of University of Michigan Law School and he is currently an attorney/intern with the American Federation of Teachers. He is also my son. You ...

Reflection 86: Having Confidence You're Average by Jeff Garson
The author of this Reflection is my son, Jeremy Garson. Jeremy is a Legal Fellow at the Washington, D.C. law firm, Woodley & McGillivary LLP, representing American workers and particularly unions. Feel free to send reactions and comments to this ...