The Old Social Contracts Related to Identity are Dead
By: | April 1, 2017
The typical response to the breakdowns that are occurring and will continue until we change our approach will be to, point fingers and assign blame, but what’s going on is much deeper and more pervasive within society as a whole. The challenges at federal agencies and other organizations are only symptomatic of our ability to adapt to a new world of pervasive identity and ideological change and conflict. Further, the old informal norms that were once the foundation of our social contracts and business norms are dead. According to Gallup’s 2016 Confidence in Institutions study, the majority of Americans have lost confidence in the overwhelming preponderance of important institutions. To adapt, we have to think outside of the boxes we’ve used for the past fifty years.
As of now, and our core institutions are incapable of and not trusted to sustain the national cohesion we once knew.
A transformative new age is here: the Age of MultiDentity. It’s born of the convergence of economic globalization, unbounded technology, demographic shifts, and the continuous expansion of individual and cultural freedom – and the backlash to change and new freedoms. The Age of MultiDentity brings with it a complex new environment in which forces:
- Erode physical, organizational and mental boundaries
- Force unfiltered and unbounded ideas into your awareness
- Create bubbles of information, facts and realities
- Empower networks (within organizations and outside of them) and their members
- Enable many more identity perspectives
- Provide new freedoms to groups of people
- Create intense countermovements against those who achieve new freedoms
- Fragment larger identity groups into smaller subgroups
- Unite new alliances and allies
- Intensify identity-based conflicts and polarization within and between groups
- Heighten appeals to partisanship, nationalism, tribalism, sectarianism, and ethnocentrism
- Make our identity simultaneously more powerful (capable of being effortlessly networked globally into endless opportunities) and more vulnerable (easily monitored, manipulated, and quietly stolen).
Given these power forces, we’ve pretty much tried to operate our systems, institutions and human resources in the same manner as we did thirty years ago. But we can’t continue to put our finger in the dike waiting until we “get back to normal.” We’re well into a chaotic and unpredictable new age. Leading academicians and business experts agree that the world will always operate with uncontrollable speed and disruption. The new normal is that there is no new normal—at least not one on which today’s many stakeholders will ever agree.
The MultiDentity Dynamic is fueled by the participation of a wider range of identity stakeholders and agendas within society that can no longer be harnessed by the traditional containers such as hierarchy, authority, political parties, or established institutions. This increased dispersion of stakeholder power, agendas and intensity makes it all but impossible for our institutions to process or resolve the many conflicting ideas about what is right and wrong for the country and more and more, the organization. The dysfunction feeds fragmentation and a lack of trust in our institutions.
Throughout government and business we discover that our old systems, policies and ways of thinking about identity within organizations and society are out of tune and out of alignment with the degree of alienation, fragmentation and polarization that exists.
The MultiDentity Mindset is a blueprint for the kind of leader or employee it will take to successfully deal with today’s interplay of the numerous values, ideologies, and identity groups that hold differing values, agendas, social goals, and degrees of power within society and your organization. These agendas are not isolated in separate silos as they used to be. Today they combine to form a powerful hurricane-like phenomenon with tremendous intensity and unpredictability, sometimes wreaking destruction.
MultiDentity thinking gives you a set of new principles and lenses to identify the many identity perspectives, anticipate points of conflict and provide cohesion before the storm rages.
Operating in MultiDentity mode won’t be easy for people who hold on to the old black-or-white, either-or, good-bad, right-wrong thinking. A time when leaders could easily:
- Keep secrets
- Count on important societal institutions to maintain cohesiveness
- Depend on the traditional establishment, authority, hierarchies, and structures to produce consensus and common ground.
More and more identity groups will use formal and informal networks to accomplish their goals. Those networks will cross the old agreed-upon boundaries of what is considered internal to your organization or community. What is viewed as mutinous, rogue and insubordinate in the old world can be viewed as creative, courageous and patriotic in the new age.
Conservatives, Blacks, Hispanics, LGBTQ, progressive women, immigrants, religious denominations, urban and rural dwellers and young people, along with subsets of whites based on class and education will engage in an often polarizing dynamic to define and control our national identity. Britain and the United States now see how intense white identity backlash can affect national identity and cohesion.
Even with the most dedicated intent to slow down the change, technology, demography and commerce guarantee there is no going back to a previous version of who we were. Our answers lie in fostering a new mindset about how we deal with identity in a new age operating in an entirely different context than existed 50 years ago. We need a new social contract, and one component of that contract needs to be a nonnegotiable norm among leaders to treat everyone as stakeholders who are interdependent rather than as groups of people to be pitted against one another.
Only from this new mindset can we do the hard work, the evolved work, of setting aside some of our differences some of the time in order to pursue shared goals and mission as much of the time as is possible. There are strong disagreements about how to define who we are. We will have to face questions like “What’s the definition of “marriage?” What is the “real America?” What are the requirements of citizenship today? Who deserves affirmative action based on past and current discrimination? Who exactly is a “radical?” What is police brutality versus a legitimate policing action? What is economic equality?
Unless we decide to go our separate ways, we have to learn to use a MultiDentity point of view. It will unlock us from limited relationships with others through prescribed categories, boxes and tribes that sow distrust and defensiveness. Over time we will discover that we have much more in common across our differences than is evident.
As I see it, if you don’t choose to master what it takes to succeed in the Age of MultiDentity, you’ll have only a few options and they are quite limiting:
- Keep operating as you always have—ignoring these new forces, misunderstanding the new environment, making serious mistakes, and missing out on opportunities to connect with a wider range of your stakeholders without even realizing that any of this is happening
- Keep being nostalgic for the good ol’ days (which will never come back)
- Withdraw to your private haven, where you’ll feel safe, but be unaware of the world of opportunities and connections opening up outside of your mental, emotional, and social bunker
- Be a resister who actively and angrily creates barriers to the inevitable changes.
I hope that none of these four options appeal to you, and that you’d rather join others who are on their way to becoming MultiDentities: People who can master the mindset, spirit, and advanced abilities needed to lead and succeed as we transition into the Age of MultiDentity. You and your organizational leaders can help your agency or business be part of the solution. Learn more about how MultiDentity Thinking can help your organization during times of transformative change.
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