Transitions Peaceful and Powerful

Once again I found that the chapters I had set out to write about provided an inspiring lens through which to view current events, and, in particular, the beginning of the primary season in the US. Reading chapter 5 “Keeping Score: Making Judgments Without Becoming Judgmental,” chapter 6 “Mosquechurchagogue: Finding Unity Not Forcing Uniformity” and chapter 7 “The Bishop of Auschwitz: When the Whole Really Is Greater Than the Sum of the Parts” of You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right as voters in Iowa are set to go to the caucuses, the first of a set of rituals which will culminate in the peaceful transfer of executive power, made it abundantly clear that we have the tools necessary create a better future, if only we can grasp them.

As part of a conversation about how best to move toward that future, I want to draw your attention to another transition ritual, the Havdalah ceremony described by Hirschfield in chapter 7. The Havdalah signifies the end of the Shabbat and the start of the week ahead, and, in Hirschfield’s words, “marks a new beginning, an opportunity to reenter the world and reengage in the work of making our world a better place.” (p. 161) He goes on to explain the symbolism of the objects used in the ceremony and from these ideas I’ve built several questions for you to consider:

  • The flame of the braided, multi-wicked Havdalah candle represents “our ability to create and build” (p. 163) – how are you seizing the chance to create and build during the transitions in your life?
  • The smelling of sweet spices calls on us to “[breathe] in deeply and [search] out the opportunities for such sweetness even in the most unexpected places” (pp. 163-164) – where might beauty and joy lie, if only you were open to sensing their presence?
  • The wine being blessed “does not grow on vines; it requires human partnership to unleash the full potential of all that we find in the world around us” (p. 164) – who or what is waiting for you to reach out in partnership and what potential might this fulfill?

As in my last post on this book, Mercy,forgiveness and resolutions for the new year, I’d advise you not to be concerned about whether your acts will have earth-shattering effects, simply be mindful that small steps, if taken by each of us every day, will add up to real change.

I’d like to close with one more quote:

“We will figure out that the challenge is never how to get us all into a single room, but how to build a structure with enough rooms for everyone, rooms in which to live out our lives safely and pursue the happiness to which we all aspire, with the awareness that standing in each of them comes with both challenges and gifts.” p. 154

Make of your room a welcoming place and take the risk to explore the rooms of others – let’s inaugurate a new era of understanding and mutual respect where we share both our challenges and our gifts.

Photo from Avital Pinnick
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The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Transitions Peaceful and Powerful

Privilege, or, when you look right, you can get things wrong

In 2012 I moved to Germany seeking a complete change of scene through immersion in a new language and culture. What it took me a while to grasp was that due to one aspect of my identity – my physical appearance – I was being treated differently from your average newly arrived immigrant.

Sure, it helped that my accent isn’t particularly strong and that I am good at filling the blanks in conversation from a previous career working with individuals with language disabilities. But the bottom line is that because I look right, I’m allowed to get things wrong. People here don’t typically pause to wonder if I might be a competent speaker of German. Instead, if they think about it at all, they may wonder why someone with such looks, I have German heritage on both sides of my family, doesn’t express herself more fluently and doesn’t always appear to understand what’s being said to her.

Something I had no part in, the genetic mixing that created my appearance, means I can pretty much take it for granted that people will speak German with me. Furthermore, I can usually expect patience and understanding if I stumble and stutter and the native speakers I encounter are mostly willing to persevere in conversing with me in spite of the challenges.

Why is this a story about diversity? Because diversity encompasses privilege and this is a story about privilege. My fitting the mold physically means that on sight and without any action on my part, my status is assumed to be that of “German speaker.” This presumption means that I don’t have to battle to be recognized as having the ability, or the right, to speak. Indeed, it requires very little from me to maintain this first impression of competence.

Because I didn’t anticipate enjoying a privileged status, I have had to learn not to take it personally when I am treated differently from other non-native speakers with the same or greater command of German, as this frequently says more about the beliefs of my conversational partners than it does about me. Thus, although I can feel proud of managing an entire interaction without using English, I must always be aware that the opportunity to do so may in large part be due to the positive bias my looks engender in those with whom I come into contact.

This heightened awareness of my privilege, and its connection to an aspect of my identity outside of my control (i.e., something unearned), has triggered reflection upon and discomfort with how qualities such as skin, hair or eye color, gender or clothing style can be crucial to how we judge worthiness. When possession of certain attributes makes it a certainty that we get a place at the starting line and exhibiting others means we never get to compete at all, we all lose. Some highly adept individuals get overlooked and can never contribute. Meanwhile, those who are selected miss the chance to test their abilities to the utmost on a level playing field. To change our approach to one where we go beyond surface characteristics such as someone “looking the part” and base decisions upon genuine appraisals of competence based on talents allows us to reap the diversity dividend.

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The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Privilege, or, when you look right, you can get things wrong

Mercy, Forgiveness and Resolutions for the New Year

“Turning personal or national suffering into a source for healing is never easy, but unless that remains our top priority, we’ll be left with a world in which everybody has a finely honed sense of how his particular past allows him to undermine someone else’s future.” p. 66

“[The] marriage of justice and revenge is always a death spiral. We know that all it does is give us just enough moral high ground to do to other people precisely what we wouldn’t want done to us.”

I had already chosen to focus on chapters 1-4 of You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right in this post, however the material in chapter 3 – “The Shadow Side of Faith: Learning That We Can Be Both Victims and Victimizers” – and chapter 4 – “Vengeance, Forgiveness, Justice, and Mercy: Recognizing the Sacredness of All Our Feelings” – felt particularly apt given the ongoing conflicts around the world and the debate here in Germany over how to foster the integration of refugees without a loss of identity or integrity on either side.

With these quotes in mind, and, if you have read it, the first four chapters of Hirshfield’s book, consider the following questions:

  • What personal issue are you grappling with where you would benefit from letting go of old hurts? Where do you see your nation suffering from an inability to move beyond past wrongs?
  • When have you allowed your desire for justice cloud your judgment? When have you found room to exercise mercy and forgiveness rather than seek vengeance?
  • Where have you created difference, separation or rejection by labeling others? By labeling yourself? How can acknowledging and accepting diversity in yourself and in others help you to fashion a more integrated and balanced life?

Note that these need not be life or death concerns, they could be, as Hirshfield describes on page 94, as simple as sharing your distress and exploring possible motives after hearing a friend’s negative comments rather than holding a grudge, looking for an opportunity to respond in kind or pigeonholing him or her as rude and unpleasant.

I’d like to close with one more quote and a thought on resolutions for the new year:

“[T]raditions exist not to serve the faithful, but to help the faithful serve the world. The traditions are there for anyone to use to craft his or her own life.” p. 51

As we move into 2016, seek to craft your own life and better serve the world by rediscovering your own traditions and making connections with diverse traditions outside your own. This forges the diversity dividend.

*All quotations are from Brad Hirschfield. (2007). You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism. New York: Harmony.

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The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Mercy, Forgiveness and Resolutions for the New Year

An invitation to inspiration

If you are going to create a series on your blog called “Inspiration Shout-Outs,” you need to start with a topic likely to spark enough interest to bring people to The Diversity Dividend and then inspire them to engage in online dialogue about it. Numerous sources of inspiration came to mind. However, what caused me to settle on You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism for the first piece in this series was that it had already prompted me to reach out. Indeed, some of you reading this post may recall receiving some rather breathless emails or seeing social media updates extolling the wisdom it contains back in 2008.

I want to begin therefore with the quote that had moved me to broadcast my delight at discovering this book:

When faith simplifies things that need to remain complex, instead of giving us strength to live with complexity, when it gives answers where none exist, instead of helping us appreciate the sacredness of living with questions, when it offers certainty when there needs to be doubt, and when it tells that we have arrived when we should still be searching–then there is a problem with that faith. p.9

My aim with this first “Inspiration Shout-Out” is to start a conversation about the value of holding opposites such as those mentioned above in a creative tension; that is, on the need for embracing that which is appealing and joyful, as well as that which is worrisome and painful, in ourselves and in our traditions. Thus I invite you to join me for an ongoing discussion exploring:

  • being wrong and being right
  • safety and certainty and discomfort and doubt
  • believing and questioning
  • giving and taking
  • commitment and openness

Let You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right kick-start your journey toward a way of living that arises from acceptance and wholeness, not denial and division. This is the diversity dividend.

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An invitation to inspiration

Diversity: Making it personal while not taking it personally

Diversity is personal. Diversity is about who you are and who I am and all of the ways in which we differ from everyone else in the crowd. Diversity is about our character and our characteristics. We may have many or all of the features that our family circle, work environment or culture deems typical or normal; and yet what makes us the individuals we are is as much about diversity, as much a part of each of us, as it is for someone who does not fit the family, work or cultural molds.

Diversity is also about awareness. Not recognizing the influence of innate or learned aspects of who you are does not mean that these aspects of self aren’t influencing how you think, feel and act. Delving into the sources of your behaviors, be they external and visible or wholly internal, highlights the ways in which you operate differently due to your diversity. This mirror may be cloudy when you first hold it up, however, even a cloudy mirror can reflect back some of the features that make you the unique person you are.

While diversity is personal, it isn’t to be taken personally. That is, your way of being doesn’t have to be wrong for mine to be right – we can both be the way we are and have that be the “right” way to be. However this sense that there is just one right way to be is quite pervasive; I would argue that it flows from our focus on scarcity. With a scarcity mindset, we tend to see things as “either/or” propositions. Under this framework, when your gift, characteristic or choice is recognized as valid, the pool of validation shrinks and leaving less available to validate my gifts, characteristics or choices. In other words, we cannot both be the “right” way: either your gifts, characteristics and choices are the best ones or mine are. This mindset says that my being acknowledged puts me “one up” and you “one down.”

Switching our thinking to a “both/and” standpoint allows us to accept the valuing of others for who they are as a general benefit to all. When your gift, characteristic or choice is recognized, the pool of available validation is enriched. Thus, rather than seeing a personal affront in the celebration of someone else’s way of being, we can rejoice with them in the abundance that exists among us. This alternative mindset says that there is always sufficient validation to go around and that we all are “one up” when any one of us is acknowledged for our value.

In keeping diversity personal and in not taking it personally, three key qualities are openness, curiosity and appreciation. How can I acknowledge the various parts of myself – my gifts, my identities and my challenges – and work to leverage them? How can I acknowledge the gifts, identities and challenges of the important others in my workplace, my team, my home or my playtime – and work to see that we get the best from our joint endeavors? Creating an environment where diversity is truly part of the fabric means that everyone gains when we proclaim the ways in which we differ. Because it is only once our diversities are recognized that we can begin to leverage them. This is the diversity dividend.

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The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Diversity: Making it personal while not taking it personally