The Opposite of Civilization is Human Nature

The opposite of civilization is human nature.

And occasionally, regrettably, human nature finds a way to break through the behavioral, cultural, social, and even religious boundaries constructed assiduously around it.

We define this “breaking through,” as conflict, violence, and—at the nation-state level—war.

The purpose of civilization is to hold back the tides of human nature and to negotiate the consequences of human nature when it runs amok: selfishness, greed, vanity, pride, sloth, envy, and so on.

Civilization does this job through the application of social and behavioral norms that enough individuals agree to. Conflicts arise, of course, when the social and behavioral norms are no longer considered normal.

Cultural evolution is a constant. Human nature is a constant.

But civilization is precious, demanding, and worth defending.

Just Make It Work

Two things are happening simultaneously in our organizational cultures, our markets, and our personal lives.

We have established non-curiosity (“I don’t care how it works, I just want it to work”) as the new standard for engaging with the work, the ideas that interest us (or not) and the world of conflicts that inevitably surround us.

We have also decided that we don’t have the time or emotional or mental bandwidth to care deeply about a topic, person, or idea, and thus we have jettisoned that character trait (caring) as well.

At the same time, for anyone who is interested enough to look, there has been an explosion in the ways that people are explaining what they do, why they do, and—most importantly—how they do it. From videos on the Internet to long-form blog posts, to intentional curation via your email, to documentaries streaming on your over-the-top video player, there are more people taking more time, to explain what they do, to more interested (curious) and caring audiences than ever before.

These two cultural occurrences represent a split and a niching down into time, attention, caring, and curiosity that is dividing audiences, and may well portend a future of less curiosity and caring at mass, and more curation, curiosity, and even care, at the edges of the conflict universe.

The things that matter, the solutions that “stick,” the statements that are meaningful, and the audiences who will care about the impresario’s show, are not going to be found in the immediate, speed driven, bite-sized, mass market.

They will be found at the edges, slowly, over time, and they will be hungering for you to arrive, with your deeply thought out solutions to their most pressing problems.

Two Points to Take Note Of…

No great change happens without conflict.

Not one.

And every great conflict generates resistance.

Every time.

So, since you know both things, decisions should be comparatively easy to make about change.


Disconnect as the New Standard

The disconnect between what people know about how the Internet (and by extension social media) “works” (choices, behaviors, options, etc.) and what people use the Internet (and social media) to accomplish (tasks) is underrated and massive.

Part of the disconnect comes from a lack of interest and caring about how the world of communication (and the tools in it) work, not only for the people with whom we are immediately communicating but also for the people not part of the communication.

Part of the disconnect comes from distractions that exist in the world of social interactions between people, and differing filters of awareness and attention. Individuals pay attention to all kinds of things that other individuals believe are unnecessary, irrelevant, uninteresting, or even unknowable. And then, because the human mind seeks order out of chaos, individuals, make judgments, create attributions, and create frames and boxes for language and ideas that further the disconnect.

Part of the disconnect comes from a lack of curiosity and even a lack of education about what to pay attention to. Lack of curiosity is endemic in discussion around the Internet (and social media) because our communication tools have prioritized lack of curiosity as the “new normal” in social interactions.  Lack of education comes about when the market responds to a lack of curiosity as a new standard, and then complies by providing less nourishing meat (education) and more easily digestible milk (displays where people advance by how well they kiss).

The disconnect is massive and troubling, for two reasons:

In the market’s breakneck race to monetize every human interaction and behavior, combined with the alarming reduction in human economic productivity, we have a recipe for a society and culture where the very tools of educating, enlightening and uplifting are being monetized and controlled by a select few individuals—or organizations.

Which would be fine if those individuals and organizations were angels, but like most people, they’re just people.

The second reason is economic in that we have prioritized facility and adaptation as ways to get ahead in a world of Internet-based (and social media based) communications where competition for attention and awareness is fiercer than ever. But if the average individual is non-curious (or too disinterested or disconnected to care) about where their future dollars to pay their future electric bills are going to come from, then we have opened society to the wavering whims of every political, social, cultural, and economic demagogue (both individual and organizational) promising to make such important decisions “simple.”

“Simple” of course meaning, “Simple in a way that works for me, my power base, and my tribe, and creates distractions, confusion, disillusionment, and disengagement, for you, your power base, and your tribe.”

Which would be fine if those individuals and organizations were angels, but like most people, they’re just people.

A standard of anti-intellectualism comes from a standard of non-curiosity, which combined with the disconnect between people and how they use their new communications tools, leads to the creation of a world of communication, rhetoric, persuasion, and power, we should all be wary of.

To resist the new standard, we need to fight to establish access to education about how to use our new social tools across the disconnect, eliminate distractions as a way to encourage disillusionment and disengagement, and re-establish curiosity about the unknown (or about blind spots) as an alternative “normal.”

Otherwise, the conflict outcomes could be disastrous for everyone.

Calling for a Reckoning

This post may not apply to you, but consider it a warning:

It doesn’t matter how well-meaning you are.

It doesn’t matter how intentional you are.

It doesn’t matter if, after saying what you said, you respond to another person by saying “Well, you have to understand, that wasn’t what I meant.”

It doesn’t matter if the room and audience you said it in front of, applauded when they heard it because it resonated with them.

It doesn’t matter how much you think you were really talking about something else.

When you publicly recommend a reckoning for transgressions that have been long publicly litigated and litigated to a conclusion that merely “is” (rather than a conclusion that may be considered “just” by any modern conception of resolution), then you might as well bring in the heavy equipment.

Because, invariably, you are going to have to oversee the digging of multiple graves.

Be careful when demanding a reckoning to get to justice.

Dissatisfaction Times Vision Times First Steps Must Be Greater Than the Resistance

The equation that drives change is simple:

Dissatisfaction times Vision times First Steps must be greater than the Resistance to the impact of all three combined or else change efforts falter.

There are plenty of dissatisfied people in your workplace, your work group, or even just your organization.

There are people who insist that providing negative feedback is the only way to encourage organizational growth and they provide it liberally.

There are people who have been dissatisfied for years in your organization; who have made brief, or even faltering, attempts at change, but have been stymied and have now surrendered.

There are people inside your organization who claim they are dissatisfied, but who are mimicking the sounds of dissatisfaction as a political power move to angle for a better position at the organizational table.

There are people with vision in your workplace, your work group, and your organization. But this vision is hazy, or they are easily distracted by the next “hot” leadership initiatives, or their vision can be compromised with just a little more money or promotion.

There are people who take first steps and attend training, workshops, and seminars.

They read books and articles, combing the internet for advice and guidance about how to overcome the organizational ennui that holds back change.

There are people who take the same first steps, but their enthusiasm doesn’t go anywhere.

They stop at memorizing the “how-to” listicle and when trying to apply the emotional jujitsu against the resistance in their organizations, they experience limited success.

But these elements, dissatisfaction, vision, and first steps, must be greater than the sum of the organizational resistance to them. Or else, the changes that you are seeking inside of your organization, your work group, or even the team that is inside your sphere of influence, won’t happen.

The resistance to change is pernicious, persistent, and it never gives up. The resistance to change is sneaky and sly and sometimes comes in the form of well-meaning people and situations that appear as though they are helping your cause of change when in reality they are hurting it.

No great change happens without conflict. And no great conflict can happen without the resistance being overcome.

And if you think that it can, then you are bound to wind up stuck in the same place of dissatisfaction where you initially began your change journey.

What’s on Offer

The thing that’s on offer—the thing that’s being negotiated—is rarely the thing that we are fighting over.

Our conflicts rarely get close to the core truth of the issues needing to be resolved, which is why management of a recurring conflict situation is a better posture toward conflict than one of trying to persist in getting to a resolution.

The thing that we are fighting over—the thing that should be on offer—must be sold, managed, persuaded, and packaged for other people’s consumption in the way that they want it to be addressed.

Not the way you want it to be addressed.

This core truth is what unites marketing and conflict management. Human beings like being persuaded, marketed to, and talked to, in very specific ways, and if you violate conventions in the pursuit of getting to a deeper truth, you run several risks, but the biggest ones are as follows:

Human beings like being persuaded, marketed to, and talked to, in very specific ways. And if you violate stated (and unstated) social, moral, ethical, and philosophical conventions in the pursuit of getting to a deeper truth, you run several risks, but the biggest ones are as follows:

Being unheard.

Being ignored.

Being unfairly (or fairly) maligned.

Being marginalized when another more persuasive party comes along.

The answer to the question of “What’s on offer?” is the equally compelling question “What’s the truth of what we are fighting over?”

Small Moments

It appears that the large conflict situations in life are the ones that matter the most.



Job loss

Personal and professional disappointments

But the reality is, the small moments that appear to matter the least, are the ones that create the grit and resilience to survive the crucible of the larger moments, when the pressure is enormous.

The pressure to behave unethically.

The pressure to surrender a critical position.

The pressure to sacrifice long-held principles for short-term gains.

The pressure to avoid losses that appear insurmountable—in the emotional present.

Recognizing that managing the small moment of conflict matters more than anticipating how you’re going to manage the larger moments (should they come) is a huge advantage in a work world of shifting priorities.

Four traits to focus on growing, in the small moments:

Gaining self-awareness.

Refining your story.

Connecting with other people by growing empathy.

Giving yourself a break.

Focus on learning and absorbing the lessons from dealing with the small stuff, not to obsess over those lessons, but to allow those small interactions to prepare you for the next large conflict.