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.

Overcoming Your Fear of Working to Connect

Fear of not connecting with another person, fear of not making an impact, fear of speaking and having no one listen, is the old resistance, dressed up in a new outfit.

It’s really just another form of hiding.

Attempt to connect.

Fulfill your promises.

Try to make an impact.

Speak whether anyone listens or not.

By the time you’re done fighting the resistance, you’ll care so much about the connections you do have, that hiding from doing the hard work of connecting, impacting, and speaking, will be dwarfed.

You don’t have to own all the corners. Just a few.

Just enough.

Storytelling is a Skill

Making noise, making a point, and making a difference are different actions.

Where we run into trouble is when we conflate the results of all three and then use those results (and that conflation) to determine what our story will be to the market.

Telling a story to the market that resonates with certain individuals in the market requires three acts:

The first act is to be intentional. Just as we are intentional with our peacebuilding efforts, we should be intentional with our storytelling efforts.

The second act is to be incisive. Being incisive requires being self-aware enough about our own story to do some critical surgery and to cut out what doesn’t matter so that we can focus on what does matter—for the audience hearing the story.

The third act is to be persuasive for others rather than to be persuasive enough to convince ourselves that we’re right and the market is the thing that needs to change. Being persuasive is hard because it’s a skill that requires empathy (which is underrated), self-awareness, and intentionality to be operating all together at the same time.

There are more opportunities than ever for people to make noise.

There are fewer meaningful opportunities for people to make a point.

There are the same number of opportunities there always were for people to make a difference, though not always at scale.

We should be sure we what story we are telling, to whom and why.

Dive Into Yourself

The deepest dive you can do is into yourself.

If you want to find the resistance to changes that need to be made in your organization, it starts with you.

If you want to discover why other people aren’t resonating with your story, it starts with you.

If you want to know how to empathize with others and their plights, it starts with you.

If you want to understand how to manage conflicts and how to be satisfied when conflicts can’t (or won’t) be resolved, it starts with you.

If you want to advance in your career, social, financial, or even in your community life, it begins with you.


The trouble, of course, is that understanding begins with you. And you think that you already know who you are and that you don’t need to go any further. Or even worse, you think that other people need to conform to you because you’re the one that knows the answers to their toughest questions, not them.

Self-awareness is the most underrated leadership trait, and that’s because on top it looks easy, but when you go deep into yourself, it becomes more and more uncomfortable.

Gaining self-awareness means going into your family, your friends, and even the systems and organizations you work in, make money in, and/or recreate in, and asking them the critical questions that matter:

  • What am I blind to here in this system?
  • What do I accept that has been told to me as reality?
  • What can I reject?
  • What are the “rules” or “standards” or “expectations” that “everyone” conforms to in this environment and do those work for me, or am I just accepting them because it’s less comfortable than not questioning?
  • What do I owe others?
  • What do others owe me?
  • What are my responsibilities here?
  • What are my obligations in this environment?
  • How does being here (wherever “here” is) match up with the story I’ve told myself about how my life and experiences should work?

Self-awareness should not be confused with behaving selfishly. Selfishness comes about when we seek to deny someone else’s humanity and pretend that the interaction is a zero-sum transaction. Self-awareness is the quiet, mindful, anticipatory work we do by ourselves, internally that positions us for success in relationships where the opportunities and possibilities can be expanded rather than retracted.

The deepest dive you can do is into yourself.

Dive in.

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.

There Are Easy Solutions to Complicated Problems

The two most difficult roadblocks to success in resolving hard problems are the presence of real trade-offs and considerations of power.

Most complicated problems and difficult conflicts have simple solutions. We often confuse what we believe is a hard solution with a complicated one. What makes solutions to hard problems not easy are the presence of trade-offs (scare resources in scare environments) and power.

In a world of scarce resources (the two scarcest being time and attention these days…even more than money) the trade-offs that must be made to create the space for solutions to your most pressing conflicts can seem insurmountable.

Here are a few (of many) trade-offs. Each one can either represent a zero-sum trade-off or an even exchange trade-off:

Conflict or Apathy

Attention or Ignorance

Awareness or Ennui

Momentum or Slowness

Going Along or Resisting

Reassurances or Courage

Change or Status Quo

Focused or Distracted

Power is the consideration behind most forms of fear. Either a lack of power or power focused in an area that doesn’t benefit getting to a solution. That power is often cloaked in reassurances and comes with a healthy dose of resistance.

We often confuse easy with simple in our own minds. Easy solutions to conflicts usually involve the kinds of solutions that favor whatever trade-off benefits us and validates our perspective.

Easy solutions also preserve our power (maintaining the status quo), or grow our power in each conflict situation. Hard solutions take away or diminish our power, as well as go against whatever trade-off we’d like to have honored.

What makes solutions hard to simple problems is that we are often blind to what is hard, and are aware of what is easy.

Be sure that you are making trade-offs you can live with, in a search for complicated solutions to hard problems.