Toward a New Paradigm

The paradigm we use today has its roots in the intellectual revolution(s) that brought us capitalism, democracy, and more over the last few centuries. It is one of the main reasons why we made so much progress  in the past, but it could also be true that it is running out of steam today.

As the accompanying table suggests, most of us approach divisive problems today using the values and assumptions in the left hand column, whether we are consciously aware of them or not. That starts with the assumption that we are competing for scarce resources and are seeking to maximize our own interests in doing so, whether “our” refers to ourselves as individuals, the groups we identify with, or our country. We also assume that when push comes to shove in this “dog eat dog” world, only one of us can win in most divisive disputes. As a result, we tend to stereotype and even demonize our adversaries using what psychologists refer to as the image of the enemy. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that we tend to think of conflict in win-lose or zero-sum terms and that divisive conflict rarely leads to positive outcomes—however you define positive outcomes.

But what difference does it make that we live in an interdependent world in which everything we do affects everyone and everything else, however faintly or indirectly? Here, the second column that outlines the values of a new paradigm come into play,  but there are other options as well. All revolve around a definition of power as something I use to empower you (and vice versa) rather than something I wield over you.

Getting there, of course, is quite a different matter. That’s what the rest of this section is all about.

Resources are still scarce, However, in a networked world in which everything that goes around comes around, it doesn’t make sense to put “me” first at the individual, group, or national level in anything but the short run. That’s the case because if “I” defeat “you,”  you are likely to become even angrier and do your best to come back and “get” me sooner rather than later.

Rather, productive outcomes seek to provide for the good of the whole, especially in the medium to long term. That can take the form of win-win conflict resolution.

  Current Paradigm New Paradigm
Starting point Scarce resources Scarce resources
Nature of Actors Autonomous Networked
Overarching Goals “Me” first Good of the whole
Time Horizon Short term Long term
Nature of Problems We v. they Shared problems
Nature of Power Power over Power with
Outcomes Transactions Relationships