The Dilemma of Either Or… Take the “Or?”
People often ask me why I have dedicated much of my life to the work of diversity and inclusion. For me the best part is you can see past the normally offered selections of possibility. But they are curious about my passion and limitless interest in the topics. Frequently, these inquisitors are apathetic to the call of diversity and inclusion. They appear “beyond” the notion of diversity or feel our efforts to fight for inclusion are a hindrance to progress. Comments can include that this “diversity” talk just makes us politically correct and Internet social justice warriors just want to engage in thought control. I being a fan of diversity I understand our team can engage in a bit of groupthink from time to time, and recognize that new ideas come from a form of tension that might exist between two spaces.
Which is why seeing choices beyond what is offered is so important. This past weekend I was teaching about Nonviolence and was talking about how Martin Luther King, Jr. would use Hegelian thinking to look at two seemingly diametrically opposed ideas to try to find a new truth. King was looking at violence and passivism where the idea of nonviolence and its role in the community occurred to him. He had to see past this notion of an “either or” reality. But it takes time and deliberate different thinking to create this form of divergent thinking. It means you must be less solution focused and more problem centered to think of these new potential realities. And this way of thinking is … hard!
This magic of neural nimbleness creates new worlds of opportunity and ways of thought, which had not existed for others before that thought was considered. When in my own privilege I think and understand the world in a new way through the eyes of another, I see the world in a “more truthful” way in understanding the reality of another. When you share with me the world as you experience it, and when I can adapt to and create new opportunity for another, for I have experienced filling a void of need that demands action on behalf of that individual in that moment. When I can bend, and give to another and meet their need, there is a natural tendency to want to reciprocate assistance and meet the needs of others. In fact, it is noted that cooperation and trust are hard wired in us neurologically in that it helps to boost the release of oxytocin, when we meet the needs of other. When oxytocin is released, people go from out-group to in-group easier; it enhances the development of trust, and helps with the development of empathy and other concerns (Dreu, 2012). My willingness to meet their need also boosts their brain’s ability to release oxytocin, which helps them “want” to also meet my needs. They want to fill the void of need and reciprocate when one fills another’s need first.
In my view people are the source of opportunity. Meeting the needs of others creates a sense of dynamic community. There are connections to people who specialize in all sorts of things that differ from my own knowledge base. Who doesn’t need a good mechanic, a trusted hairstylist, or shoulder to cry on from time to time? I will be blessed to get to take my puppies and partner to a friend’s beautiful cabin for spring break, and this cabin is much more amazing and luxurious than my own home. In some ways, this friend is a patron to me, in that I do service and assistance in the community they cannot do so they ask me, “to pay it forward”. Traditional thinking would have try to by a cabin myself or rent one for this trip, but that is the magic of moving past “either or” thinking.
Now, back to the question of my own love of diversity. The hardest place for diversity to exist first is within the realm of thought. In order to think new thoughts or to see opportunity, we have to view and see the world in a different way than we currently understand it. When I see the world differently I can envision a world beyond the traditionally offered way of thinking which is usually framed as “either or”… Are you conservative or progressive? Well I see myself as more of a communalist! Are you Christian or Buddhist? I sort of see Jesus as a bodhisattva – so I am both? Are you individualist or collectivist? Well I think we should think we should be more important than me, but at the same time we need to bring our best selves into that we as well…Should we have chicken or pizza? Both, I love wings or fried chicken strips with pizza!
If your ever offered an either or, take the “or?”. There is an amazing opportunity in the possibility of an “or?”. We have to do the mental work for a pliable enough mind to see a new “or?” possibility. That is the best part about diversity and inclusive practices, the chance to see a new opportunity which couldn’t be conceived of without the other. We need that other person for a wider perspective of opportunity. We also need new solutions that address the root of the problem. Part of that problem is we too often are left with a scarcity of choices.
Remember if you are ever offered an “either or” option, choose the “or?” and look for the new possibility!