What it Takes to Shift Existing Patterns, Norms or Social Contracts (3 of 3)

“I can’t breathe!”

This has become a rallying cry around the world. Will it also become a tipping point for long needed social change? Are we finally ready to upend the systems, social contracts and worldviews that have created the injustices in the world we live in today?

A Growing Unrest and Unease

There is always some percentage in a larger society, like a country, that actively disregards or works against societal social contracts. It does not serve their interests or they have figured out how to operate outside of the norms without consequences. That number is usually not large enough for social contracts to completely disintegrate. So why is it that there is a growing unease and unrest around social norms and contracts right now?

Social contracts are blowing up (as we wrote about in the first post in this series) because they have not been working for a long time (as we wrote about in the second post of this series). And for some people, people of colour and those living in poverty, they have never worked. They have been used to silence voices, keep people in their “place” and to quell protest. Perhaps 2020 is the tipping point. We may be experiencing the perfect storm drawing attention to how unfair and unjust many of our social contracts have been and continue to be.

The Perfect Storm

The Covid-19 Pandemic, which has challenged our social and economic patterns, assumptions and expectations, has been causing disruption and disorientation around the world. With more people sheltering at home, greater social media use has riveted attention on injustice. This was witnessed in the response to the weaponization of whiteness or white fragility dramatically illustrated by the woman who called the police on Christian Cooper in New York when she was the one clearly flouting the law. She distinctly named what she was about to do and then she made the call. This has been a pattern among white people for too long.

There have been yet more deaths of people of colour at the hands of police or other people including Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia; Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky; George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Regis Korchinski-Pacquet in Toronto, Ontario; Chantel Moore in Edmunston, New Brunswick; Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta, Georgia to name but a most recent few. There is a disturbingly long list of names before and with them.

So many of these atrocities have gone without repercussion to the offenders. This seems to be changing in this moment in the days of video from cell phones. Cries of injustice have ratcheted up including past offences. It is the video of George Floyd, the 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence that has ricocheted around the world that seems to be jolting people into action, including more white people. Will this become an indisputable rallying point? It was his death that led to protests in many countries and a persistent cry to defund the police, being picked up by more and more voices, organizations and people of influence. Will this momentum be sustained?

Changing Conventional Thinking with 25% of the Population

An experiment carried out at the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania published in 2018 suggested that 25% of a group can be effective in shifting the conventional thinking or norms of the entire group. We have often said in our Worldview Intelligence work that in any given population there is a percentage of people that strongly and consistently hold certain worldviews that are in a minority, like the views of White Supremacists. They may not go unnoticed, but they are also not large enough as a group to shift collective conventional thinking.

Periodically, we experience enough of a disturbance, or a combination of events, or sustained patterns of actions, where a growing number of the population feel that their interests are not being served. They may have become disillusioned with their perceived status in society, for example. This additional percentage is attracted to those minority views or to the conditions that shape the view. For a time, the overall percentage grows. This tips the balance. We have surmised this was a contributing factor to the election of the current US President who rallied mostly disaffected white people by drawing on their discontent and in Britain by the vote for Brexit.

A New Unrest

Each moment leads to the next. In the last few years (since the 2016 votes), a new unrest has been stirring in more and a broader base of people. It has been fuelled by a growing and refocused awareness of injustice, of wealth imbalance, the long threads of misogyny, the MeToo movement, outrage of families separated at borders and kids in cages to name just a few examples. While on the surface we have sometimes wondered where the leadership is to stop the trends and the policies that reduce the emphasis on social responsibility, it has been simmering, ebbing and flowing, for a long time. It has been much talked and written about, increasingly so in the last few weeks. Protests, Black Lives Matter and Defund the Police have superseded the Covid-19 headlines for weeks now. These conversations are happening everywhere and they have affected families, friends and workplaces.

It also is not new. These patterns and agreements are deeply engrained in the history of place and culture. In societies and families. Until they are illuminated and called out for the power they have, not much changes. And now they are being called out and inspected in a way we have not witnessed before, at least not in my lifetime. As more people rise to the new rallying calls, there is more potential for a sea change.

Alignment of Worldviews and the Disruption of Social Contracts

We know that people are likely to align with those who have similar worldviews. Behavioural science tells us that when this happens, those worldviews become more deeply entrenched. If there are enough people whose predominant worldview contradicts the current social contracts and who are willing to speak it, those social contracts will be disrupted or they will collapse. Social contracts, whether implicit or explicit in law, only guide behaviour, or keep it in check, as long as enough of the population abides by them. Right now, more and more people are giving voice to a worldview for greater justice.

Where Personal Freedom and Social Responsibility Overlap

Social contracts are not just about the rule of law. As mentioned in previous posts, it is where personal freedom and social responsibility overlap. They are how a society takes care of its people. It’s about the economic and social policies of a society. As one example, the US social contract centers more on individual freedom and Canada’s social contract centers more on collective responsibility as evidenced by health care delivery and gun law legislation in each country.

The unravelling of the existing agreements is not a new phenomenon. One thing illuminated by the Covid-19 Pandemic, the varying responses to try to flatten the curve and the reactions to those responses is just how fragile the social contract is in so many areas and in so many countries. Add to this the growing calls for social and economic justice and it is becoming increasingly clear to more and more people that our historical social contracts are not only not useful anymore, they are not just.

No matter where we live, the degree of freedom people are claiming or are willing to exchange for societal wellbeing, protection from harm and societal order is an active debate in need of renegotiation and regeneration. What is a collective worldview that could emerge that recognizes justice and equity for all, not just for a privileged few thanks to skin colour or wealth? How can more voices actively contribute to the shaping of a new future?