Basic etiquette cannot be designed or enforced by formal social laws. Enforcement comes from peer pressure and social consensus. Perhaps, in our present society, we do what we can “get away with.” Actually, our ethics come from our deepest values and our values come from our deepest concept of how we feel about ourselves in our immediate social context.
In our recent history, it seems to me that we've been living by a perversion of The Golden Rule, “Do unto others before they do unto you.” Or, in advertising, “Do the consumers before the competitors do them. ”The Golden Psychological Secret is “We do to others what we do to ourselves.” No matter the nature of the medium, productive communication depends on the self concept of both partners of the interchange.
Our values are not changing because of technology but because of a larger social transformational context. The nature of The American Dream was made possible by the evolution of a democratic society in which equality became an achievable goal. The ideal that an individual has inalienable rights is just a glimpse of the change in how we treat each other.
It is the question and controversy that opens up the possibilities for change. Human rights continue to be re-defined in our culture and all over the world. Abuse is now defined on a psychological level as well as physical. Race, religion, and gender are no longer conditional qualifiers of individual justice.
Yes, technology has become a major factor in this change. Certainly, universal and equal access to information and intellectual exchange increases the potential for social transformation. It does not predetermine the results. It calls the question.
Ideally, the sender/receiver and the receiver/sender must both be human and have a real time connection. Both must have respect for the ability and right of the other to contribute goods, information, knowledge, and wisdom. A dominator/victim attitude on either side contaminates the interchange. Demographic stereotypes, sexual, racial or social status conceptually limit the identity of the participants and set up the relationship for manipulation, competitiveness, and a win/lose results. Without a win/win process, the communication becomes unproductive.
In the context of equality, the sum game is 1+1=2. In the context of creative Partnering, the sum can be 1+1=3. Metaphoically, a "child is born."
Recently, concepts of intimacy are being introduced in business, corporate culture, social, and political groups, now referred to as “communities.” One of the key concepts is partnering. This is a relationship that requires personal values or character ethics such as interdependence, win/win attitude, honesty, disclosure, vulnerability, and compassion, just to mention a few. People today are just tired of being treated generically, like statistics, in personal relationships or in business. The context of advertising and other commercial exchanges is no exception for the individual, enlightened consumer. We demand that people we have contact with, face-to-face or through technology, acknowledge and respect our privacy, our freedom of choice, our unique needs and desires, and our tradable goods: money, job productivity, skills, talents, experience, and wisdom. We also want to be acknowledged as whole persons - body, mind, and spirit.
Technology has made it difficult if not impossible to “preach to” a captive audience. A free market continues to erode monopolies in products, service, information, and ideology. Each of us, as consumers have an expanding resource of options. As technology and commerce expands across national boundaries, citizens of the world will have more choices in what, where, when, and from whom they “buy” necessities of life, be they material or conceptual.
Equality, partnering, and universality are paradigm shifts that have dramatically influenced one-to-one, personal relationships in the context of marriage, community, commerce, and social networking. Let's look at two example scenarios where these concepts are factors.
The dominator/victim paradigm assumes that one side of the communication has control of all the resources (product, information, experience, and wisdom) and the other side is passive and has nothing to contribute. This is not true even if the trainee or student has no direct experience with the information at issue. As we are changing in how we see ourselves and others, we realize that all humans bring their life experience and creativity to the situation and have much value to contribute. No matter how much expertise we have previously invested in our information or process, it is open to innovation from the people who participate in its implementation in the real world.
When the dominator attitude of one side defines their product or service as an inevitable choice of the other side, they are vulnerable to surprise. The customer has choices or will soon have choices from competitive products. The customer may not need the product at all. The customer may even become a producer of that same product. If the seller devalues the contribution of the consumer’s money or resource, the exchange becomes a win/lose situation. A win/lose exchange is a temporary relationship. It cannot last over the long haul. It will end when the loser runs out of resource for exchange or decides to buy somewhere else.
Let's look at this relationship from the loser perspective. A “victim” attitude results from a self concept that is unconscious of intrinsic individual value. This attitude is very powerful and supports a loser role. When the victim devalues their own human rights, intelligence, creativity, money, or product of exchange, they inevitably define the exchange as a failure. Monopoly, the game, and real world commercial intercourse is over when either side loses! Dictatorships fall when the oppressed have nothing left to lose.
The Industrial Revolution provided the have-nots with more things for a higher standard of living. The Information Revolution promises to put more information in the hands of the now have-nots. I believe that the have-nots will continue to be empowered with a flourishing self esteem and, consequently, an appreciation of all living beings.
Whether the relationship context is producer/consumer, employer/employee, or male/female, new ethics of social interaction are being defined and refined. The game is changing! The new game will be more productive and will last longer because everybody wins!
Originally appeared in the Script, the Houston Chapter MCA-I Newsletter, August 1995