Sunday, August 27, 2017

Diversity's Many Gifts

The Mystery within...
Experiencing discrimination as a woman has led me to seek to understand and appreciate the many gifts of diversity. So when I encounter others who understand diversity’s’ importance in the natural world, and among us who inhabit it, I get excited and want to share their wisdom.     

Robin Wall Kimmerer, botanist, Native American and author of “Braiding Sweetgrass,” braids science, spirit and sacred stories to show us where people, the land, and everything inhabiting it, can be good medicine for each other. This symbiotic relationship grows and flourishes from our gratitude for the earth’s many gifts.  

Gratitude and respect for the earth’s diversity is distinctive of native cultures across the globe and has become an essential understanding for our future health and continued existence.  Other species can be known as models of ecological and cultural sustainability demonstrating the power of unity through diversity.  Kimmerer says, “…it’s about listening and translating the knowledge of other beings.”  She knows scientists would do well to listen to and respect the wisdom of old women who talk to plants.  A line from a native prayer she shares acknowledges, “Everything we need to live a good life is here on Mother Earth.”  Kimmerer and many others know gratitude begets abundance and our strength lies in our embrace of diversity.  Being thankful for the plant and animal lives that sustain us, taking care not to waste or over consume, and understanding our interplay with it all is critical for Mother Earth and us. 

Reciprocity is a word Kimmerer uses throughout “Braiding Sweetgrass.”  If we take care of the earth, the earth will take care of us.  We need to give back for what the earth gives us choosing leaders rooted in service and wisdom; leaders who are willing to work for common ground and common good, with an ability to ameliorate differences; leaders who will present us with a Bill of Responsibilities toward our earth and one another.  We need to show up and speak up for Mother Earth; become co-creators by risking loving the world and one another.  Will it be the gift of fear that will eventually awaken our dependence on the earth and one another?   

I was exposed to some good diversity training in my former work life with the USDA Forest Service as managers worked to comply with the Civil Rights Act of the 1960s. Just as biologic diversity is the hallmark of a healthy ecosystem and planet, a symbiotic relationship among diverse people can create a vibrant workforce and a healthy society.  As the Forest Service worked to add and advance minorities and females to its workforce (from which I directly benefitted), it was also coming to terms with the importance of biologic diversity in good natural resource management.   

Understanding the value of diversity seems endless.  Reading Susan Cain’s book, “Quiet—The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking,” I was fascinated by her report of Harvard Business School’s preference for more extroverted students.  This, along with her citation of management theorist Jim Collins’ study of the best performing companies of the late 20th century, more light was shed on the importance of diverse human input.  

Cain wrote, “Collins hadn’t set out to make a point about quiet leadership.  When he started his research, all he wanted to know was what characteristics made a company outperform its competition.  He selected eleven standout companies to research in depth.  Initially he ignored the question of leadership altogether because he wanted to avoid simplistic answers.  But when he analyzed what the highest-performing companies had in common, the nature of their CEO’s jumped out at him.  All were unassuming leaders. Those who worked with these leaders tended to describe them with the following words:  quiet, humble, modest, reserved, shy, gracious, mild mannered, self-effacing, understated.” The lesson, says Collins, is clear.  “We don’t need giant personalities to transform companies.  We need leaders who build not their own egos but the institutions they serve.”

Employees of these unassuming leaders were more often motivated to think for themselves and offer their thoughts in a more accepting atmosphere.  I believe the dynamic of more thought interactions and contributions, sourced in diversity, is the foundation for success, not just for a company, but also for its employees, their country, and all of life.  I have to wonder if the growing divide between the haves and the have-nots in America is exacerbated by our 21st century discrimination toward introverts?  I see, in a new way, how important it is to respect, revere and promote the gifts of both extroverts and introverts for a more whole society.

As I read Howard Zinn’s ,“A Peoples History of the United States 1492 to Present,” I periodically had to put the book aside for awhile to recover.  His brutal detailing of the horrific cruelty to native people, and later to imported black slaves, was emotionally draining.  Awareness of America’s shadowy beginnings sheds light on lingering racism and other social problems.  Learning of this deep darkness can grow empathy and compassion for the wronged so needed now to end assigning others with inferior status. Understanding our country’s past darkness can grow us to embrace ethnic diversity and social justice.  According to Carl Jung, knowing our own shadow can be pure gold for enacting positive change.

Native American wisdom is shared through story in Hyemeyohst Storm’s book “Seven Arrows” which I read many years ago.  I was fascinated with his telling of the Sioux tribe’s peace shields that depict an individual’s strength along with one’s weakness for all to see.  What a great ego softener that honesty would be.  My shortcomings could elicit understanding and help from those I encounter throughout my day, and my strengths would be known for what I could contribute to the whole.  Native American wisdom parallels the wisdom of the Enneagram.  Their Medicine Wheel represents the Universe into which we each enter through a particular direction as a unique self with gifts to share along with a balancing need to learn from others’ gifts.  Different totem animals and people come to us throughout our life bringing teachings to grow and balance us.  Storm writes: “The Medicine Power is within all People, and in all the things of the Universe.”     

I understand spirituality as a profound sense of belonging to the earth and one another and was grateful to the friend who loaned me a PBS video titled “Beyond Our Differences” featuring diverse and prominent spiritual leaders from around the world.  Highlights for me from that video were: roots of good religion are sourced in love, compassion and tolerance—quests for certainty are dangerous; there are different approaches to the same goal—to create good human beings; everybody and everything is forgivable; God is found in the heart and where people come together; surrendering to anger and hatred is violence against ones self; non-violence creates spiritual healing; we are to help people understand each other; authentic spirituality is working with the excluded and abandoned; all is sacred; inalienable rights belong to everyone and everything; surrendering to the Mystery will reveal your purpose; it is most important to be brave; a recipe for peace is for everyone to contribute a small part; when you become peaceful your life is different; appreciate and celebrate diversity; share each others gifts.

In 1945, the late priest and paleontologist, Teilhard de Chardin wrote:  “It seems to me that the Russian prestige is declining and that America holds in its hands the immediate future of the world as long as America knows how to develop the sense of the earth at the same time as her sense of liberty.”  In 2017, America struggles mightily to embrace the health and well being of others and our planet.   

There are other countries that do a better job of providing for the health and well being of its citizens and understand the crisis of global warming to our common home.  Some countries have enviable health care, family care, and better education, and not surprisingly a correlation to drastically lower incarceration rates than America.  The following quote from Bessel A. van der Kolk, MD’s book “The Body Keeps the Score” should give us all pause:  “Could this approach to public health have something to do with the fact that the incarceration rate in Norway is 71/100,000 in the Netherlands 81/100,000 and the US 781/100,000, while the crime rate in those countries is much lower than in ours, and the cost of medical care about half?  …The United States spends $84 billion per year to incarcerate people at approximately $44,000 per prisoner; the northern European countries a fraction of that amount.  Instead, they invest in helping parents to raise their children in safe and predictable surroundings.  Their academic test scores and crime rates seem to reflect the success of those investments.” Are lower taxes worth their cost?  Is the height of America’s stock market the only measure of success for some?  Darkness, mistakes, and trials really are the supreme teachers.  Perhaps it will be the gift of fear that will bring us to acknowledge what our country needs, awakening our dependence on the land and one another.  

Linda Sechrist’s article in “natural awakenings” titled, “Heart-Based Leadership—Women Mobilize to Heal the World, cites Rucha Chitnis’ conclusion that women’s groups and networks offer a paradigm shift exposing links between unbridled capitalism, violence, the erosion of human rights and destruction of the earth.  Jean Shinoda Bolen has been advocating since 2002 for a United Nations Fifth World Conference on Women and says, “Empowered and equal women are the key to peace and sustainability.  We need to rise up together and fulfill the Dali Lama’s words at the Vancouver Peace Summit:  ‘It will be up to Western women to bring about peace.’”

I believe the one thing we all have in common is our differences.  It is what gives life its color, allows us to learn from one another, and grow from experiences shared.  Understanding and appreciating the depth and gifts of diversity is endless.  It would be like knowing the Great Mystery who created it all.

What if we shared more often diversity’s many gifts? 

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