By Ted Wachtel
“A theory of everyone” asserts that we get better results if authorities, in every setting, engage stakeholders with more voice and choice, in exchange for taking more responsibility. The theory is based on a fundamental premise that “human beings are happier, more cooperative and productive, and more likely to make positive changes in their behavior when those in positions of authority do things with them, rather than to them or for them.”
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The human race has acquired awesome powers. Through our technology, we can create and destroy as never before. At present, we’re trying to decide between melting down the planet, blowing each other up, or just poisoning everything. It seems that our technological skills have outpaced our social skills.
We’ve become a threat to others and to ourselves. We struggle to make good decisions or get along with one another, without conflict and violence. Despite the fact that most countries are democracies, we still end up with leaders who are more concerned with wealth and power than the needs of the people they represent. Our election process is hopelessly corrupt, because expensive political campaigns force candidates to beg for money—in most cases from powerful interests that expect favors in return.
I doubt if any legislature in the world is free to make decisions based strictly on what is best for all the people. Wherever we look, we see corruption and what seems to be a spiral of increasingly crazy behavior. Sometimes we just wonder, “Who is in charge here? Where are all the grown-ups?”
But complaining accomplishes little.
The late Buckminster Fuller, one of the 20th century’s great innovators, said:
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
That’s why I set up this website. Not to complain, but to share hopeful possibilities with anyone who’s interested. Actions, prototypes, demonstration projects, experiments; proposed, underway or long-established.
The concept that unifies all our work is “restorative practices,” a new social science that studies how to improve relationships and civil society—our most urgent need—and it does that through participatory learning and decision-making. The fundamental premise of restorative practices is that “human beings are happier, more cooperative and productive, and more likely to make positive changes in their behavior when those in positions of authority do things with them, rather than to them or for them.”
Physicists have long searched for “a theory of everything” that explains the physical universe. We now seem to have come across “a theory of everyone” that explains the human universe. Whether in a family, classroom, workplace or whole country, we get better results if authorities in each setting engage stakeholders with more voice and more choice, in exchange for taking more responsibility. There is a growing body of evidence affirming that restorative practices are more effective than traditional top-down decision-making in which there is little input from those most impacted by decisions.
In 2000, to teach and support research in this emerging field, I founded a new accredited master’s degree-granting school called the “International Institute for Restorative Practices.” The IIRP is dedicated to restoring community by preventing and resolving conflict, building and strengthening relationships. In the United States, we’ve been most successful in impacting schools, youth justice, and youth counseling.
IIRP is involved with several randomized control studies of restorative practices implementation in schools, in the state of Maine, the city of Pittsburgh, in a multi-state study, and hopefully soon in a European multi-country study. Our strategy is to take action, assess the outcomes, make modifications as needed, tell the world about it and take more action wherever we can.
I retired as president of the IIRP in June, 2015, because I would like to take restorative practices into politics and economics. Getting authorities to do things “with” people, instead of “to” them or “for” them, is as important in governance and enterprise as it is in learning, justice and care.
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