Shifting Agreements
Apr 12 2009

One of the distinctions discussed in the Landmark Advanced Course is one of Agreements.  These aren’t agreements that you sign like contracts, these are social agreements on how the majority agrees to act around certain issues.  Some of the most notable social Agreements that have changed over time are how we as a society agree to treat women, Black, and gay people.  These shifts affect our lives, our businesses, our entrepreneurial endeavors whether we are consciously aware of them or not.

Not too long ago women did not have the right to vote or were not easily able to work outside of the home.  If they did try to work outside of the home, they were also expected to keep the home front in complete order.  If you transported a man or woman out of the 1950’s to today, they would be shocked at the amount of freedom women have thanks to the women’s movement.  They also might be surprised how day care, store hours, and business flex time schedules have changed to accommodate working women.

Same goes for Black people and gay people.  Not too long ago Black people couldn’t drink from the same water fountains, use the same bathrooms, or eat at the same restaurants as White people.  Not too long ago it was taboo to be gay.  It was considered an abomination, a sin and in many places it still is, but no one can argue that the perception has shifted.  If you watch TV or see the movies, gay people are showing up everywhere!  Mixed race couples were also frowned upon and yet now you see many more mixed couples (race, religion, ethnicity).

So much has changed and it’s because of the people (entrepreneurs, change agents) who took it upon themselves to help make the shift.  The interesting and ironic thing is that the people who tended to resist the shift the most early on are the people who were afraid of changing what they felt was the ‘right’ lifestyle.  Some of the biggest resistors to the women’s movement were women!  Women who were happy (or told they should be happy) living the stay-at-home-with-kids lifestyle looked down on the women who wanted to work and be treated as equals.  I saw an Oprah show once where a stay at home mom actually said she felt that women who chose to work loved their children less than those who chose to stay at home!

In other parts of the world, where horrible practices like foot binding in China or female circumcision in certain African tribes occurred, the older women were the ones fighting the hardest not to change the practices because in some strange way they found comfort in familiarity and felt if they had to go through it why shouldn’t the next generation?!  The psychology behind these extreme behaviors is mind boggling, but we humans are creatures of habit.

The uneducated Black people were among the many who would by their behavior hold back other Black people from a well deserved education and prosperity.  I dare say there were many closet gay people who often fought against gay rights because it might expose them.

Agreements shift in business as well.  What one generation thinks is OK in business, the other does not or they modify the agreements slightly to make things work for them.  I believe we are living in part of a shift right now in thinking on how things should operate on Wall Street and on the US Capitol Hill.

The shifters consist of entrepreneurs, politicians, and well known leaders like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Gloria Steinham, Carly Fiorini, Indra Nooyi, Indira Ghandi, Sirimavo Bandaranaike (first female priminister in the world who happened to be from Sri Lanka – where I was born), the Pope, and all the change agents whose names we may never know but who have a profound affect on their businesses/communities which in turn affects cities, countries, and the world. [Yes, that sentence was way too long!]

These shifters see something in society that is missing or needs to be changed (from technology to social policy) and they begin the shift…most likely not even realizing the role they are playing at the time in making the sift.  Big shifts take time.  Some are good shifts and some are bad, but they happen nonetheless.  I’ve started thinking about the shifts we are making as a society and here is what I see:

  • Parenting – shifting from the primary caregiver being the mother to shared care between mother and father.  I have a handful of women friends whose husbands stay at home while they provide financially for the family.  This is a huge change from even our parents generation where that didn’t or very rarely happened.  Most of our fathers barely changed a diaper!  Even my company Babble Soft might be contributing to a shift in how we take care of our newborns when we no longer have the same nearby family support structure and need to know more about how our baby is progressing for doctor visits.  It seems that we are still early in this shift, but it’s happening.
  • Job Changing – In our parents and grandparents generation it was not uncommon for someone to hold a job with one company for 30 years!  Nowadays most people change jobs within 2 to 7 years.  I know in the technology field if you saw a resume where the person has spent more than 10 years at one place, you wonder about their ability to innovate.
  • Marriage – with divorce rates averaging 50% for first marriages, 67% for second, and 73% for third marriages it seems that we as a society are more accepting of this change in lifestyle than in the past generation where it was much rarer to get a divorce but people were tolerating the situation.  People were living alternative lifestyles in private and now they are living them out loud in public.  This is despite the increase in marriage counselors!  I wonder if the marriage shift has any correlation to the job changing shift?
  • Technology/Communication – It’s acceptable (for the most part) to have a gadget (cell phone) attached to you at all times.  How we all lived before cell phones and iPhones, is beyond me.  It has created a shift in how we communicate (voice, email, twitter, text messaging) that is unprecedented.  It has yet to be seen if this is good for humanity in the long run but we seem to be heading towards an ‘always connected’ society.
  • Medicine – We’ve seen a shift from non-profit based medicine to for-profit based medicine which has led to some great innovations in the medical field but also to movement away from what is best for each patient/the system and towards what seems to be the best for the lawyers. 🙂
  • Elder Care – Only a generation ago, it was common for aging parents to live with their children but now it’s more common for them to go to a retirement community, an assisted living place, or elder care facility in at least the American culture.

These are just some of the shifts I see.   Do you see these shifts too?  I wonder how they are going to effect business, entrepreneurship, our day to day lives 5, 10, 25, 50 years out.  I wonder how our children will react to living through these shifts.  I’d love to read your thoughts in the comment section below.

Author: | Filed under: entrepreneurship | Tags: , | 4 Comments »

4 Comments on “Shifting Agreements”

  1. 1 Backpacking Dad said at 9:56 PM on April 12th, 2009:

    I don’t know. I don’t feel like there’s a shift in parenting yet. More like a glacier calving icebergs into the ocean.

  2. 2 Erin Defosse said at 7:57 AM on April 13th, 2009:

    Maybe we’ll all shift back to pre-agrarian social “agreements” and look more like those tribes in the Amazon that have not had any (or minimal) contact with the outside world. I once read a book that touched on this called “The Continuum Concept” ( It was recommended to me by my sister at the time that we were about to have our first child.

    Erin Defosses last blog post..Magellan International School to Open August 2009

  3. 3 klanum said at 12:49 PM on April 13th, 2009:

    Relevant TED talk:

    In this funny (and actually poignant) 3-minute talk, social strategist Renny Gleeson breaks down our always-on social world — where the experience we’re having right now is less interesting than what we’ll tweet about it later.

  4. 4 Aruni said at 6:23 PM on April 13th, 2009:

    @Backpacking Dad – It is a painfully slow process in the parent shifting but I see it happening and know it’s different from when I was young.

    @Erin – Yes, that book did seem to indicate that life was much simpler then. Maybe we can move to much more simpler times.

    @klanum – the human propensity to spin a tale and make something more interesting than it is, is quite amazing! 🙂