Yup, you read correctly – the overarching New Year’s resolution for 2019 should simply be, “Don’t be an A**hole.” This blog post presents a book list exploring what this resolution means.

What does that mean? How does this play itself out? How does this get adopted into our way of thinking and line of actions?

The “Don’t be an A**hole” Book List

TD Great Reading Room –
Photo: Michael Grimm

Today I find myself in the TD Great Reading Room at the new Calgary Central Library. Books on my list for the holidays all centre around this theme of understanding how individuals and community operate in a system. More importantly, how decisions made at the individual level have ripple effects on communities far beyond the personal dimension.

Included on this “Don’t be an A**hole” reading list are (you can order these books from the Karma & Cents bookshelf):

I have chosen these specific books for three reasons:

  1. They range along a political and economic spectrum
  2. They explore the externalities that are purposefully included or excluded in the creation and roll-out of policies and operations
  3. They come from a base of case-study as opposed to simple theory, making the concepts digestible

At the end of the day, if we are going to create communities and societies where we have happy, healthy families and engaged people contributing at an optimal level, we need to understand the individuals’ context. This context is about where people begin and how individuals see themselves operating within this system.

Somewhere v. Anywhere: Exploring individuals’ needs in a global system

In Harper’s book, he references David Goodhardt’s analysis on Brexit and the rise of the Somewhere vs. Anywhere identities. Those who see themselves as “Somewhere” people are those who are rooted in a specific geography. Whose whole identity is wrapped up in that geography and whose whole livelihood cannot be extracted from that locale. This results in a more myopic or singular framework of reference, problem solving and policy design.

In comparison, those who have an “Anywhere” identity can see themselves, their families and their community being anywhere in the world. They value expanded worldviews. As such create solutions and set policies that look at a ripple effect beyond the immediate sphere of influence.

Finding the Mushy Middle…

In the context of “Don’t be an A**hole,” it is about finding that mushy middle. The mushy middle is the space where we create solutions and draft policies to support those who are feel more marginalized by bringing together opposing ideas to generate whole new solutions.

Those who play in the mushy middle try to integrate policies so that the ripple effect supports the local sphere (those from “Somewhere”) AND the broader community (those from “Anywhere”). In working with families designing Philanthropy 3.0 giving strategies and legacy plans, we take into account the individuals’ and the family system at play. Ultimately, those who work with us want the best for their communities today, and in the future.

The Family Sandbox

When families design their legacies they consciously or unconsciously take into account how individuals work together to manifest the family legacy. Consider the school sandbox as a metaphor for the family business table. There are three distinct dynamics that influence how people play in the sandbox:

  1. Power → Who owns the sandbox and the toys inside and decision making vetoes
  2. Experience → Number of generations playing together bringing different perspectives to the play experience
  3. Culture → The values that each individual defaults to, and the overarching family values that were passed down from previous generations (do we work together to build a sandcastle or hoard the toys for ourselves)

When considering the personalities and the experiences layered alongside the social issues that families want to address in their Philanthropy 3.0 plan it becomes apparent that those with an “Anywhere” perspective and those with a “Somewhere” perspective could easily come to loggerheads.

So how do we get out of the log-jams? We start by exploring the difference between presenting problems and systemic problems.

The “Don’t be an A**hole” Problem Gap

This leads me to the next two books on the list – Thomas Sowell’s book, Discrimination and Disparities in conjunction with Taylor Lambert’s Darwin’s Moving. If we are going to set policies that will govern our societies at a local level with ripple effects at a global level we need to be conscious of the economic divisions from the start.

As described by NeWest Press, “Darwin’s Moving is an intriguing and affecting exploration of class divides by a journalist and former mover. Taylor Lambert takes us behind the scenes of a familiar industry that is almost completely undocumented in Canadian literature to reveal the cycles of poverty and addiction that ensnare its workers. This is the Other Calgary, a world populated by transient men and women struggling to survive in a boomtown’s shadow.”

Sowell’s book suggests that economic disparity isn’t a result of single issue of victim vs. persecutor, or birth luck/bad luck, or even single policy design. Rather, there are a number of externalities at play. When we design policies to help one group “the other”, we are going to negatively impact another group. This occurs because of how our political and economic systems are set-up. That “other group” might be right in our own backyard, or it might be around the world. As described by Basic Books, “The point of Discrimination and Disparities is not to recommend some particular policy “fix” at the end, but to clarify why so many policy fixes have turned out to be counterproductive, and to expose some seemingly invincible fallacies–behind many counterproductive policies.”

Designing for Resiliency – Family Legacy & Impact

The Karma & Cents Social Impact Lab approach encourages exploration of both the presenting and systemic problems that the funders are trying to solve. The Lab process creates space for diving into how best to design a giving portfolio. By bringing together different perspectives we can design giving plans that are measurable and funding can be right-sized.

Have a good 2019, be nice to one another and consider “Don’t be an A**hole” your New Year’s Resolution.

Girl holding a sparkler for New Year's celebration
Photo by Murilo Folgosi from Pexels