Unity = (Diversity) to the nth…

I’m writing this blog post primarily for those of us who identify as somewhere on the liberal-to-progressive spectrum, as that’s the broader community whose political views I know best.  Since these are the folks whom I tend to expect to ‘get it’, it’s also where I can get most disappointed. Recently, some commentators have been assuming that “diversity” is a problem, since we need to maintain “unity”. This feels deeply painful to me; at the same time, I am also hearing it a call for greater thought, heart, and clarity about diversity and its value — along with more information about practical ways of having BOTH more diversity AND more unity.

Of course unity is important: the oldest law in politics is “divide and conquer”. Yet the difficulty may be precisely in the kind of thinking that sees these two facets of Nature as being somehow inherently opposed. In the scarcity-based, competitive society that we humans have created, unity and diversity are often experienced as a zero-sum game –  the more we have of one, the less we have of the other. As a species, we are still figuring out that it’s possible to have more diversity without giving up on unity.

Sure, diversity poses a challenge – it means we can’t fall back on the easy sameness that creates one of the simplest forms of unity. From the perspective of the evolution of cooperation, diversity is an opportunity for growth;  it means we need to learn the art of seeing and experiencing a larger and more inclusive whole, one that is actually created by all of our diversity… and thus, is in no way opposed to it.

This means that we don’t need to give up “me”, in order to become part of the “we”. Or more precisely, when each person is treated as a valued and unique part of the human family, defensiveness and aggression tend to fall away. As group facilitators, we know from experience that this is what happens among humans when everyone’s included and treated as a human being, with no exceptions. When instead, we create systems of forced competition with winners and losers, we are also creating enormous amounts of unneeded suffering, separation, and greatly exaggerated  insecurity.

What do we lose when we take on the value of treating each person as a human being, and valuing their uniqueness? One thing we lose, is having somebody to blame. And that can feel scary…  in fact, some people believe that the “only” way we can feel united with others, is to have a shared enemy. That is clearly one way that “works”, at least for a short while… yet at what cost?

There are other ways to create unity — or, from a spiritual perspective, to uncover our inherent unity. In the right context, diversity, and most especially a diversity of perspectives, not only does not detract from unity… instead, it can be the shortest path there. This lovely video from Denmark is a wonderful illustration of this point.

From an evolutionary perspective, we know that life involves an on-going process of differentiation and integration. Yet as humans, we are still learning about the second element in that interaction. For example, there is growing research about how engaging creatively with differences can actually be a source of energy,  innovation, and wholeness — as well as helping us to correct for our inherent cognitive biases.

And then there’s the connection between “diversity of perspectives” and other kinds of diversity. Unless we learn ways — many diverse ways, not just one or two — to live creatively with a diversity of perspectives, we aren’t going to have much luck at grappling with other kind of “diversities”, either.

So that’s the first part of my diversity rant: diversity as key for human development, for wholeness, for our spiritual practice. And, if we are courageous enough, it can even be a means to ensure our political health as a larger liberal-to-progressive movement…

While I’ve been writing for years about diversity and deepening democracy, and before that about diversity and spirituality, this recent round was catalyzed in part by an extremely clear and outspoken article by Shaun King. In it, he mentions the results of a recent Suffolk University poll showing the Democratic Party as abysmally unpopular these days, even less so than our current Republican president or vice-president.

Followed the link back to the original poll, it somehow reminded me of the mean lists that kids used to pass around in the classroom when I was in fourth grade, about who was least popular. Yet at the same time, it also brought to mind Jane Mayer’s brilliant book, “Dark Money”.  Reading it left me deeply concerned about how to respond to the actions of a handful of billionaires who are intentionally attempting to destroy government, for their own unlimited individual and corporate power.

This juxtaposition of Mayer and King’s work feels very potent… what if, instead of an either/or, there is a both/and here? What if, instead of having to choose between “the Dems have been the target of a concerted attack” OR “the Dems have majorly dropped the ball on inclusiveness”…. what if instead, we chose to see BOTH as true?

While recognizing external factors is clearly important, blaming those externals for all of our misfortunes tends to keep us stuck, and alienates us from our own sources of potential power — including the power to learn and grow from reconsidering our own actions.  King reminds us  that ultimately people are more powerful than money, and a tremendous amount of grassroots wisdom has been dissed rather than  fully honored and respected.

Ok then, now to the practical. What would it mean, if in our political organizing and community organizing, we could enjoy a greater diversity of perspectives, while still remaining “indivisible”? Are we willing to give up “having somebody to blame”, in order to gain greater access the energy, creativity, innovation, and wholeness? Is it really ok if “everyone wins”, or do we need for ours to be the “only game in town”?  For those whose minds and hearts are open, here’s one simple, practical, and elegant design for generating synergy between diversity and unity, and creating win-win all around.

This everyday miracle is the “instant run-off” or ranked voting system, which recently became law in the State of Maine. Lots to appreciate about it… and how it works is simple: people can “vote their conscience” for their first-choice candidate, while also selecting their second choice, should their first candidate not win a majority of the votes. If a system like this was in place at the national level, the Democratic Party could only benefit, while also promoting creative initiative among the grassroots.

The Democratic party would be either the first or second choice of many people. What better way to ensure unity, while also encouraging diversity?

This simple structural change would bring in a healthy dose of Jeffersonian small-business, REAL free-market competition to politics, in contrast to the enormous cartels and monopolies and duopolies of the plutocrats. In addition, it would ensure greater stability, by allowing us to converge on positive second choices.

In closing, I want to acknowledge the many immediate and critical issues that are facing our current Democratic representatives in Congress. Many of our representatives have been hard at work, standing up to Republican pressure, speaking truth to power, bringing in all the facts closest to the truth that we can find, while also being open and willing to learn. All of that is super important, and I’m deeply grateful for it.

In addition to gratitude, we may want to offer our representatives all of the material support that we can. Not just thank-you notes and flowers, but also food, massages, child-care. Learned this from some local women in Albany who, as the focus of their activism, are choosing to support awesome women politicians in their local communities. Think about it, ladies… we ALL need wives… whether we are male or female, we all need people who help support us, especially if we are taking on the messy and arduous job of bringing some love and healing into our current forms of self-governance.

At the same time, as our treasured elder, activist and spiritual teacher Joanna Macy points out, there are many different kinds of work that need to be done. Doing our best to put out  fires, and to support the fire-fighters, is crucial. Yet we also need other kinds of work.  To ensure the well-being of our country, we need to be Dragon-Dreaming the future… i.e., investing in thoughtful and heartful visioning and strategic learning. We need the willingness to explore new ways, especially with regard to how we organize ourselves, how we  work together, how we communicate with one another and take next steps forward.

Of course, our innovation also needs to be guided by  the “Precautionary Principle” of Do No Harm. So…. Ranked Choice Voting. Instant Run-Off. Win-Win. What do you think?

If this makes sense to you, how can you help this idea spread?

And if your care shows up as a concern, what concerns do you have?

would love to hear.



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