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Ground Rules Deep Dive #2: Confront Internal Contradictions

by Milenko Matanovič

July 12, 2017

Together we are capable of extraordinary achievements. Over the years, Pomegranate Center has proven this by encouraging people to uphold a code of conduct that leads to creativity and collaboration. This code of conduct, what we call “ground rules,” is essential to creating a positive atmosphere that focuses on how things can be improved, free from complaints. In this series of short essays, I will look at different ground rules, evaluate why they are important, and share stories from the field.

Currently, our culture has a major disconnect between the big ideas and the day-to-day habits. There is an invisible line that most of us are unwilling to cross because it challenges us to change our beloved routines. True change requires more than ideas and wishes. It asks of us to put skin in the game.

Some years ago I was invited to consult with a community to identify priorities and goals for the future. People, frustrated by traffic jams, expressed the need to have bus service connect different neighborhoods. Everyone loved, loved the idea. However, when it came to adopting it into the City’s planning goals, the same people didn’t like having a bus stop next to their home. The possibility of having strangers hanging nearby and the bus noise was too much. Too much change! So the government was forced to nix the proposal, and the great idea died unceremoniously.

That’s a perfect metaphor illustrating a broken algorithm: “I love change as long as it doesn’t impact me.” We want something for nothing. We love the IDEA of change but hate the ACTION required. The math doesn’t work.

Years ago, leaders of an environmental group visited me to gain my support for obstructing a proposed bypass because it would negatively affect the environment. I said that I gladly support their cause under one condition: together we make the bypass less necessary. I suggested that we solicit pledges from all members of the group involved and neighbors to commit, in advance, to use public transit, carpools, and bicycles and thus decrease the number of cars on the congested road.

They objected. Why would they need to sacrifice while others wouldn’t? I said that every cause needs leaders who stand behind a solution—and here was the group’s chance to do just that. The group decided that opposing the bypass, rather than proposing something better, was the way to go.

I’ve seen hundreds of such small inconsistencies that we accept in ourselves because resolving them takes work: the problem is so large, and my contribution so tiny, so why bother?

The problems we face are enormous, sure, but they grew over time, accumulating millions of small actions and decisions that have become the accepted norm. We all created them, and it will take all to solve them.

Small things add up. They can add up to problems or to solutions. They link us to the issues needing solving. So instead of being irritated about traffic jams, try walking to transit stops, bicycling, or car-pool. Such small acts will help us step outside the problem’s box and see it from a new perspective. Afterward, when driving, part of us will understand those who walk, bicycle, or take buses. Our identity expands and with it our understanding. We develop compassion toward those, who like ourselves, contribute to the problem they wish to solve.

The new algorithm, then, is to be willing to personalize the impersonal and find even the smallest solution to diminish the problem’s power. Of course policies and laws expedite the journey, but those will rest on a foundation of understanding. And that job belongs to us all.


Read the first installment in the series, “Turn Opposition Into Proposition” here.