This article comes along with our CEO Rhonda’s article ‘Change is Harder than Rage’. It adds my perspective about the need to see all the different truths of diversity. And that comes when we create more safe spaces for conversations, thinking, reading, and sharing to help get as full a view of people and systems as possible. I hope this adds to that.
This article, The Reality of Many Truths, was born from Alok Vaid-Menon’s work and a provoking conversation with a friend on the experiences of transgender people. Both confronted my attitude towards how they are ostracised and equally as important, it reminded me to relinquish the hold I had on thinking that there can only be one truth to issues of diversity.
Our opinions are rarely impartial – we judge from a position of what we like, love, hate, or dislike. We categorise things and people to make sense of the world around us. Which means for the most part we see people as either good or bad, or a particular group as wrong or right. When we are children, we are quite inquisitive, always asking ‘why’ because our minds are still malleable and eager to learn – “why is the sky blue?”, “why does a dog have fur and I don’t?”. We asked these questions out of curiosity to understand more.
In our early years of development, we cultivate associations with objects and people around us. We begin to learn the concepts of love or hate mostly through our need for self-protection or external influences that affirm those emotions. As adults, like when we were children, some of those emotions are false attributions. Once we are older, it becomes difficult to break out of certain patterns of thought simply because it takes more energy to grapple with this mental conflict than let the pattern hold. So, in the end, to varying degrees whether consciously or unconsciously, it leads us to a rigid way of seeing the world. This is compounded by the fact that we live in a culture that leaves no space to allow us to make mistakes or be wrong.
We can hold onto elements of ‘me’ – our diversity, our identity is critical, but we need to be open to understanding ‘us’ as well.
Grey Thinking to Navigate the Complexity of Humanity
Humanity is a complex system that houses 7.9 billion beings, in a society held together by every single diverse and distinct interpretation of the world – so that includes you and me (us!). To then be so sure of ourselves to claim complete understanding of a subject (regardless of what ‘side’ we are on) would seem quite bold, when we realise roughly how many opinions and categorisations that we reject or dismiss. Our binary way of thinking in some cases makes us subjects of our own social constructs. It would seem more prudent to aim to think in the grey for the truth is generally somewhere in the middle.
To think in the grey, meaning we accept that; life is not black-and-white, that we hold partial truths. This creates space for us to take in other truths. Some of the greatest thinkers spoke about the value of delaying judgement until they understood the other side of the argument more than their position. A skill to help understand the importance of considering multiple perspectives to avoid the tendency to take new or disconfirming information for the purpose of validating your view, and instead to keep an open mind.
Taking a binary way of thinking to matters of diversity, equity, and inclusion tends to lead to two parallels: the inescapable dichotomy and the false dichotomy. Inescapable when we believe a decision between one or the other to be unquestionably tied (zero-sum). A conviction that making another person feel included discounts our own existence. False when there is sensationalism and a dependency on how we choose to categorise each other, which justifies the notion of polarisation.
“He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that.” – John S. Mill*
*The language in this quote attests to the thinking of a certain time in our history*
Our society is dependent on shared truths, but our social structures are eroding our reality and trust by amplifying the fringes. Take the political landscape for example, the common thread tying the progressive left and the conservative right together is that they both conform to ideological imperialism, so dissent, whether internal or otherwise, has been stifled. By ignoring context, compassion, and proportionality it leaves no room for nuanced thinking and an inclusive society.
At the Intersection of Opinions and Oppression – the search for Us
“A dude will put more energy in killing you than healing him.” – Royce Da 59*
*To me, the words of rapper Royce Da 59 are a contemporary perspective that resonates on ‘it is way easier to externalise than internalise to have to deeply understand others’*
Between the 19th and 20th century (and arguably present day), women had to endure suffrage propaganda because men felt their masculinity would be threatened by women’s rights to vote. The idea of women voting was seen as a threat to the very fabric of society, so they were subject to discrimination and absurd campaigns. So how do we react to the uncomfortable feeling of uncertainty and doubt when our judgement is challenged? Should we resist the natural urge that triggers our minds to takeover and react without clear reasoning? Or would we rather be comfortable in the certainty of our half-truths and misunderstandings?
All experiences of discrimination are valid and every one of us has basic inalienable rights. Such as the right to self-determination, for your identity should only mean what it needs to for you.
I have learned how differences provoke opinions, that can turn into intolerance, which can grow into hate, and then create discrimination.
“At times it’s difficult to see things as they are because we see them as we are” – Anais Nin
It’s this very idea which should push us to examine the ideologies we live by, or else we are blindly living someone else’s ideas. It also became apparent to me that part of the issue is not for us to fight for those who are discriminated, but to free ourselves from the norms and principles that drive us to oppress or cast others out. The intention should not be for you to understand me so you can accept and accommodate me, but rather understand my experiences as a black person to reflect and challenge your own precepts. Otherwise, it appears to be conditional acceptance – a tolerance to accept someone, despite…as though to accept out of obligation.
“And what will one naturally come to like and love, apart from their parents, spouse or child? Well, they will like and love being liked and loved!”*
*This is an adaptation to Charlie Munger’s quote*
Really, we are no different from one another as much as we make ourselves believe.