Our Strategy for Change

Some people think that what we define as meaning issues are relevant mostly to middle-income people, and are thus not immediately relevant to the economic and social problems faced by lower income and poor people. Our response is that the kind of redistribution of wealth and resources called for by most liberals/progressives (and the re-imagining of our culture that it would demand) cannot be accomplished unless the meaning crisis has been addressed. That is, an alliance needed between poor people and middle-income people can only be built if the psychological and spiritual, as well as economic pain of both sectors are given equal attention.
   We further believe that beginning in the late 1960s the Left began to send a message to a majority of Americans that they were being selfish and even immoral to worry about "crime," social "amorality," and other so-called "middle-class" issues--that were usually blamed on the poor--when the poor were in fact suffering so much from deep-rooted economic and political discrimination. However accurate the barometer of suffering on which their critique of white, middle-class America was based, the resulting strategy only served to alienate, and not educate, the most politically powerful segment of our society.
   In view of this dynamic, we believe that the best way to serve the interests of the most oppressed is to take seriously the meaning crisis, and build a cross-class alliance on that basis that supports efforts to evolve from a consciousness grounded in the self-focusedness, consumerist materialism, and power-seeking people have tended to see as central to their survival in our current social environment, to a consciousness focused on the maximization of love, caring and empathic behavior.
   We propose to accomplish this by addressing the social justice concerns of both poor and middle-income people, and by supporting the inner work people do to support that evolution. Our goal is to build a coalition between all groups that seek to transform the bottom line to one that supports the movement towards a spirit of caring and community that in turn will lead to a more just, tolerant, and sustainable society.

2. Education & Outreach. The most important goal of the Foundation is to gain wide exposure of the POM and like-minded concepts. This occurs on many levels, including but not limited to:
-- Promoting local study groups and other educational activities to teach a politics of meaning perspective.
-- Hosting (with co-sponsors) national and regional conferences, and building coalitions with like-minded groups, in order to bring together individuals and organizations from around the world who engaged in meaning-oriented social change work, and help develop and promote a unified discourse and strategies.
-- Developing and holding leadership training workshops where individuals can work with leading theorists and activists to deepen the POM discourse at the same time they increase their own understanding of it.
-- Commissioning and publishing innovative research by young as well as established scholars and activists that show how the POM can translate into concrete social policies. -- Establishing and supporting task forces in a variety of areas that explore ways of translating POM ideas into real changes in all areas of our society. Over a dozen task forces are already in existence and are working on the planning of different sgements of the 2000 Summit.
Click here to go to a list and description of our task forces. -- Leading a national campaign to challenge media cynicism (specifically part of the mandate of the Media Task Force).

Ethical Impact Reports | Progressive Covenant with American Families

Ethical Impact Reports
One of the main goals of the Foundation's educational and outreach activities is to help publicize and further develop a system of Ethical Impact Reports (EIRs), which would be implemented by communities on the local and national level on business, governments, schools and other public institutions. Examples of Ethical Impact Reports can be found in an article by Thad Williamson in the July/August 1997 issue of Tikkun magazine, and will be available in full on this site by the middle of June. Until then, please contact Rick Ulfik at (212) 704 0888, or via email at
rickulfi@ix.netcom.com to have a copy faxed or mailed to you.

Some organizations have called for the incorporation of EIRs into a larger framework of Social Responsibility Initiatives on the local, state, and even national levels. Such initiatives would, as one version explains, apply to corporations with annual revenues of $20 million or more operating within the United States, and would--in a move that returns to the original understanding of corporations as publicly chartered bodies--call for the mandatory re-application for corporate charters every twenty years. To receive a new charter, a corporation would have to prove that it serves the common good, gives its workers substantial power to shape their own conditons of work, and has a history of social responsibility to the communities in which it operates, sells goods, and/or advertises.
   Corporations would demonstrate their social responsibility through the production of an Ethical Impact Report every five years. These reports would have a section prepared by the corporation, a section prepared by its employees in circumstances in which they have no fear of corporate retaliation, and a section prepared by community groups representing stakeholders (people who are impacted by corporate decisions and are not stockholders in the corporation).
   If the corporation does not receive new charter, its assets may be awarded to another community group that can demonstrate ability to run the corporation without decreasing employment or socially useful services while increasing the corporation's ability to act in a socially responsible manner. EIRs would also include an assessment of the degree to which the corporation encourages and rewards cooperation, idealism, caring for others, solidarity, creativity, concern for the impact of the actions of the corporation on the entire population of the world, ecological awareness, and respect for the preciousnes of each individual.
   A draft of a Social Responsibility Initiative for the City of San Francisco described the EIRs as assessing the degree to which corporations:
1. Encourages and rewards workers for using their intelligence and creativity in their work, working cooperatively, and treating each other with respect and caring.
2. Protects and/or enhances the natural environment.
3. Promotes the values of truth-telling and personal integrity in its day-to-day operations.
4. Gives employees significant say in shaping what happens at work, significant opportunities to participate in the shaping of the direction and fundamental decisions facing the company.
5. Provides mechanisms of accountability not only of workers to managers but also of managers to workers, while encouraging supervisors to demonstrate respect for employees and retraining supervisors who humiliate employees or who take reprisals against employees for publicly citing illegal or unethical behavior.
6. Reduces unnecessary stress on the job, and provides a physically and emotionally healthy work environment.
7. Encourages workers to develop and exhibit an attitude of caring and mutual support for coworkers and for the larger public who are recipients of goods or services from the company, and encourages an attitude of awe and wonder and celebration of the natural universe.
8. Rewards labor for its work by providing workers a decent living, steady employment, and shows loyalty to its workers.
9. Rewards workers for participation in community service, for ideas and projects that increase the ability of the corporation to serve the common good, and for availing themselves of opportunities for personal and professional development.
10. Avoids unlawful discrimination in hiring and promotions and combats discrimination in the workplace.
11. Provides adequate attention to the family needs of its workers, including flex-time,leave for child care, sickness, the assistance of elderly parents, and bereavement.

12. Makes information about aspects of its operations relevant to the Ethical Impact Report freely available to the public-at-large.
   In the design and implementation of EIRs local communities and governments would devise detailed guidelines to assist the parties in filling out EIRs that provides direction for how to measure or assess the areas listed above. It would also be recognized that in assessing some of these factors, ethical evaluation is necessary and that some of these issues cannot be decided by careful technocratic observation, but only by the use of ethical judgments which may differ among the relevant parties. These differences will be recorded in EIRs and will become part of the public discussion that this initiative intends to foster as part of the process of implementing its design.

While EIRs are designed to help re-imagine and re-constitute the way people relate to and interact with each other in public spaces--i.e., government, corporations, schools, etc.--we are fully aware the fundamental unit of any society has to be the family. Thus the Foundation supports the "Progressive Covenant with American Families" that Harvard Professor Cornel West unveiled in Tikkun magazine in 1997. The text of the Covenant is as follows:
   Many Americans are rightly proud of their families and feel good about the energy and dedication that they've given to building strong families. Yet most families also face many difficult problems. The world in which we live does not support us in building loving relationships. On the contrary, our society tends to reward people for the degree to which they've learned how to look out for their immediate and individual interests. Love is a word that is thrown around a lot, but when it comes to the "bottom line" of what actually gets rewarded in our society, it's not love but consumerism, selfishness, celebrity, and power.
   No wonder, then, that there is a crisis in family life. conservatives and liberals have sought to address that crisis, and yet both have often missed the point. The Right talks about "family values" but attacks gays and lesbians, people who are building circles of family caring which do not match the Right's definition of a correct family make-up, and mothers and children who are on welfare--as though that is what undermines family life. Yet in almost twenty years of listening to working people talk about their lives, we have not yet heard one person say that family problems -- tension or violence in relationship with a partner , or children doing poorly in school or experimenting with drugs --exist because there are gays or lesbians in the society or because there are welfare mothers. Blaming these "others" provides a way for the Right to ignore the responsibility of the competitive market and the values it fosters.
   Democrats issued a "Families First Agenda" for the 1996 campaign that included many valuable and specific ideas for providing economic benefits for Americans. Many of these ideas make sense and are included in our Covenant. But most people know that problems and tensions are not restricted to families who are lacking economic benefits. Economically comfortable middle-income people face the same tensions in family life as everyone else, so calling for corporations to keep jobs in the U.S. or providing tax incentives for higher education or making pensions portable, while important elements of a program, are inadequate unless linked to something more.
   That "something more" must be a critique of the ethos of selfishness and materialism that pervades American society and specific programs designed to bring people together to create supportive communities of ethical and spiritual meaning that give necessary support to people as they work through family problems. That is what distinguishes our Covenant from the rhetoric of both the Left and the Right.
   This Covenant is an agenda for the next two decades. We don't expect that its central ideas will find immediate resonance from a cynical media or from politicians addicted to the limits of the current order. We ask you to read it and think about how to improve it (and contact as with your suggestions at institute@meaning.org. If you agree with its basic tenets we ask you to circulate it, to sign it yourself as one of the endorsers, and to get neighborhood groups, unions, churches and synagogues, city councils, and community organizations to endorse it. Eventually, as the superficial attempts to manipulate people's legitimate concerns about family fail, increasing numbers of people will turn to an agenda that speaks to the deeper issues.
   In all our talk about families below, we explicitly mean to include the wide variety of family forms, including single-parent families; adults with adult parents and/or adult children; gay and lesbian families; and families that do not choose to have children.

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The Covenant with American Families

1. Reward caring behavior in the economy, rather than selfishness and materialism. Change the bottom line so that people learn that loving and caring behavior, rather than uncritical consumerism.
To encourage this new bottom line, we propose:
   A. Preferential admissions to any college, university or graduate school that receives federal funding for those who can demonstrate a significant involvement in community service or in sustained acts of caring for the elderly, the infirm or the sick.
   B. Government contracts should be awarded preferentially to businesses that develop an annual Ethical Impact Report in which they demonstrate that they have organized themselves in ways that:
      1) Reward caring behavior on the part of their employees.
      2) Reward community service on the part of their employees.
      3) Reward employees for ideas that might improve the ethical sensitivity of the company's advertising, marketing, employment and investment policies.
      4) Reward cooperative as opposed to competitive behavior in their employees.
      5) Provide adequate benefits (including family leave and provisions. for parents to come to work late or leave early in order to deal with family needs).
      6) Do not have a history of exporting jobs abroad to pay lower wages or to find less restrictive environmental regulations.

2. Give Americans a raise. Most middle-income Americans are working too hard and earning too little. The minimum wage should be raised, and there should be a minimum family wage that allows middle income poeople to earn enough to support a family without constantly worrying about making ends meet.

3. Reduce the work week--create more time for family life. Harnessing recent technological advances, it should soon be possible to reduce the work week to 32 hours, or four work days a week. Work can be redistributed so that everyone is employed without lowering wages. The additional time will allow for a much fuller investment of time in family life.

4. Reduce stress at work, so that less stress is brought home Powerlessness at work is a major source of stress, and of physical and mental health problems. Employees need greater opportunities to participate in shaping the world of work. And work itself must be reshaped to serve the common good, so that working people do not come home feeling frustrated that they have been wasting their lives each day in meaningless work that has no relationship to their highest ethical and spiritual values. When working people feel good about what they are doing in the world of work, they will have less stress to bring home, and this will reduce some of the stresses in family life.

5. Build life-long economic supports. Provide the necessary economic supports for families, including full employment, adequate housing, quality health care for every human being, and quality child care provided by well paid professionals. Pensions should be made portable, and pension coverage and protection should be extended to every worker. Families should receive tax-reductions and other forms of direct support to help offset college and job training costs. Students are who prepared to work hard, keep a B average, and give time to community service should be guaranteed adequate support to pay for a college education. Special funds should be available to help support community-oriented investments, and to provide tax relief for small family businesses.

6. Build Family Support Networks in every community. Family support networks can take many different forms (or combine some of the following elements):
   A. Groups that teach parenting and communications skills, and provide a place for families to share stories and compare notes about techniques for dealing with difficult situations in raising children and in keeping relationships together.
   b. Groups that exchange concrete skills or services, including exchanging child care and baby-sitting services,sharing tools and equipment, and trading skills (for example, I paint your house or help you install some new electrical or plumbing, you teach my child the newest computer techniques or how to play a musical instrument or how to read Japanese or how to do advanced calculus).
   C. Groups that arrange for community potlucks, picnics, concerts, political discussions, and other shared neighborhood and community events. In addition to the support networks, we need to create a Family Support Corps made up of people who are able to volunteer time to provide in-home supplemental care for the elderly and in-home child care. In building family support networks, we will strive to include all members of the community in these activities, and to erase the perception that people in same-sex partnerships, elders, singles, and couples who choose not to have children are not also members of families. Family support networks with different orientations may also be built for teenagers trying to figure out how to deal with family tensions, and singles dealing with issues in their relationships with parents or siblings.

7. Create a Council of Elders for every community. The wisdom of our elders is rarely tapped adequately. We need councils of elders that can guide the community in solving problems it faces. We also need mechanisms to ensure that the life experience of elders is brought to the attention of younger people in the community, through schools and religious institutions.

8. Teach empathy, individual responsibility, discipline and respect for the experience of others in schools. Our educational system should focus on teaching children to recognize the unique preciousness of every other human being, and teach children empathy, respect for the experience of others, discipline and individual responsibility. Skills like reading, writing and math are important, but a school should not be able to receive public funding if it cannot demonstrate that its students are learning these fundamental values and incorporating them into their lives.

9. Teach respect for children and reject family violence. Children learn respect by being treated with respect. Often parents and teachers see their job as exclusively oriented toward molding children to become the way the adults or the society wants, rather than understanding that part of their task must be to learn from children. Yet we also reject the notion that "children always know best," understanding that in a society dominated by television and mass media, children's desires are often reflective of the dominant culture.
   Parents should be encouraged to avoid violence as a way to inculcate desired behavior in their children. While spanking is not always and necessarily an expression of destructive and unwarranted violence, it is too often used as a vehicle for parents to let off steam and anger that is displaced onto children from other parts of their life where the parents don't get a chance to let out their frustrations. While we reject "one-size-fits-all" formulas about how to provide discipline, we know that far too many families have covered up patterns of violence with the rationale that they were merely providing moral instruction. There is nothing moral about violence used by adults against children. So, while we do not want government to intrusively enter into family life to supervise discipline, we also want to encourage support for children to report violence. Schools should teach children about healthy family life, including the notion that there are a variety of forms of healthy family life and that there is no one single "correct" form. Yet children should learn communication skills that may improve family life and should be taught about family dynamics and how they can be made more healthy. We are aware of the danger: that professionals will attempt to impose their own standards on everyone else. For that reason, family support in schools must be provided in a pluralistic manner, so that alternative perspectives can be understood by the students.

10. Support people working through difficulties in relationships.
   All too often, the supermarket mentality in relationships encourages people to move on to leave their family or long-term relationship when difficulties or tensions emerge. People need to be encouraged to avoid treating each other as replacable commodities and to work through the difficulties. Divorce should be considered only after very serious efforts, including counseling, have been tried. The rest of us should have a commitment to help people work through their difficulties rather than instantaneously champion the idea of splitting up a relationship.
   On the other hand, we support battered women to leave their relationships immediately. Too often the victims of family violence (usually women or children) blame themselves for having "done something wrong" and then try to find excuses for the violence that they are enduring. We encourage women to leave these relationships until the battering has been stopped and the men involved have entered into successful treatment programs for the pathologies that led them to act violently.
   We support the creation of an extensive network of "safe houses" and other economic and social supports for people leaving physically or emotionally abusive relationships. Our support for people to work on sustaining their relationships does not preclude an equally serious commitment to helping people leave relationships that can no longer promote loving or caring.
   Mediation services should be used wherever possible to deal with problems in reaching a divorce settlement. Our communities have a direct stake in ensuring that people can leave their relationships with the least amount of anger and the most amount of hopefulness possible under the circumstances. So mediation should focus not only on financial agreements, but on providing spiritual and psychological healing to the greatest extent possible under the circumstances.

11. Support single people Not everyone who is single wants to be in a couple We want to respect those who choose to be single and encourage couples to help build supports for people who are single.
   But many people who are single don't want to be. Many of these feel that is a mark of shame if they are single and have not yet found an appropriate partner. Yet throughout human history, it was the community that took repsonsibility for helping people meet each other. So we must encourage communities to reassume this moral responsibility toward singles, by providing safe, tasteful and respectful ways for peple to meet, while publicly repudiating the notion that there is some shame associated with being single or divorced.
   Given the distortions in human relationships fostered by the legacy of patriarchy and the dynamics of a society dominated by materialism and selfishness, some people may find it difficult to find partners who can provide respectful and loving companionship.We want to respect their sitiuation and reject attempts to stigmatize their decision to remain single or to leave an oppressive relationship. At the same time, in place of the lone individual maximizing self-interest, we seek to encourage a recogniton of our deep interconnectedness, and believe that psychological help involves acknowledgment of our mutual need for recognition, love and caring by others. Hence, we need strong friendships and communities that can provide a supportive framework for loving relationships.

12. Support gay and lesbian families. Any time two people make a longterm commitment to remain together and to build a loving family together, their decision needs to be given support and encouragement. Many gay and lesbian families are raising children and making their contribution to the continuation of the human race. Gay and lesbian familes are entitled to the same economic benefits and spousal rights that the society provides for heterosexual families.

13. Men Taking Family Responsibility Many men have already rejected the societally stereotyped role in which they are supposed to be the money-earners and "tough" and unfeeling, while women are supposed to raise the children and be responsible for emotional support and caring. This patriarchal division of labor was hurtful to both men and women. Instead, we need to support men to take more responsibility for family life. On the one hand, this includes more severe punishment for men who financially abandon their families. But it also means strong encouragment for men to give success in building loving relationships. To do this, we need to reduce the conflict that so many men face between advancing their ability to bring adequate material support home and their ability to give time and attention to their children and spouse. Part of this involves changing societal assumptions, so that men are encouraged to take off time from work during the first months of a child's life, and to take off time from work when children are sick or need special attention. Part of this involves developing societal images of the powerful man as the man who allows himself to become emotionally vulnerable and lovingly committed to others.

14. Challenge media cynicism regarding loving and caring behavior. The media teaches us that human beings are only motivated by material self-interest, and that everyone is "just out for themselves." We want the media to convey a very different and more complicated message: that most human beings want to be more loving and caring, but have come to realize that in the competitive marketplace and in the society built around the selfishness and materialism that the marketplace emobides, people who are too caring may actually end up hurting their own chances for success. If the media helped make visible the itnernal struggle most people face about how safe it is to be as loving as they want to be, many people would realzie that their own desire to live in a more caring world was hared by others.
   That understanding would echo through our lives, making everyone far more intereted in taking risks for loving relationships. Family life would be immensely strengthened as a result. Similarly, we will support changes in the kinds of messages being aimed at our children through the excessive depiction of violence, selfishness and manipulative sexuality. We do not want to protect our children from the truth that these elements exist in the world. Yet media to which our children get exposed frequently dwell excessively on these themes, creating the false impression that these are the "real truths" of the world. We want television programs and other media to focus on the development of ethical, ecological and spiritual sensitivity, and to avoid distorting our children's perception of reality.

15. Blend individual repsonsibility and community support. No community or governmental program can replace a sincere commitment on the part of each of us to take responsibility for promoting relationships based on respect and caring. We can build a society that rewards caring, but in the final analysis, each individual must take the time to treat every other human being as infinitely precious and deserving of respect. When that becomes the behavioral norm, loving relationships will be much easier to sustain, because people will have constant practice all day long in the kind of attitudes that support family life.
   Yet these attitudes can be given massive support by societal norms. We will support the creation of public events in which families meet to celebrate and honor as a community the hard work and energy that so many people put into building families. Simultaneously, we will provide in those Family Support Days a series of workshops, small group discussions, and educational forums to explore the many remaining problems in family life. We will build public campaigns to challenge all those societal institutions that undermine our ability to see and treat others as fundamentally deserving of love and caring.

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