“Our knowledge is not reliable; it is partial and undermined by the fact that the unconscious has a separate truth dimension, of which we are mostly oblivious. Ironically, the deeper truth resides in what we habitually dismiss as illusion, fantasy, myth and distortion.”
~ David Tacey
As I introduce this multi-part series, I will say right up front:
I wish to see diversity & inclusion succeed in every way possible in New Thought organizations and spiritual communities.
I am an old cis-gender white male and I recognize that “my people” have done great harm with regard to all of us recognizing our Oneness. I am no longer in active ministry either, and you may take what I write with appropriate skepticism.
My purpose is not to discourage anyone from doing work to increase diversity & inclusion. Rather, it is to aid in the likelihood of success by helping everyone to realize that this issue is more complex than it may appear. It is not just a matter of inviting those who are not already in your communities to start coming; it is also about recognizing the larger dynamics involved and being willing and able to make what may well be significant personal and organizational changes to increase the likelihood of your invitations being welcomed, and that once diversity is actualized, inclusion happens naturally and organically.
The addition of diversity as a value and the creation of the Diversity and Inclusion Commission are signs that Centers for Spiritual Living is serious about making our organization more inclusive and diverse. In many parts of the organization, this is a major part of the conversation, not least among our younger ministers. I am sure that equivalent steps are being taken in other New Thought organizations as well. After all, how can we create #TheBelovedCommunity without diversity and inclusion?
When I travel around and visit many of our member communities, I notice that while diversity may be a value, it is not necessarily a reality. In most of our member communities, one would have to be told that diversity is an organizational value – it would not be obvious. I also note that in most cases, where you see diversity – of race and ethnicity especially – it is in areas where diversity is present in the larger community. Even then, the leadership of local spiritual communities must make efforts to create an environment where diversity can flourish, where people are welcoming to those who are different, and where those differences are not invisible, but are recognized, honored, and included in the life of the spiritual community.
I am writing this series of posts to do at least two things: first, to encourage greater diversity of all kinds in New Thought spiritual communities, and second, to help spiritual leaders understand why actualizing greater diversity can be challenging. Most spiritual leaders who have engaged with this issue have come to realize there is a difference between what people say that desire – greater diversity and inclusion – and what actually happens.
In this series, we will examine the different factors which affect the makeup of our spiritual communities. These include large demographic factors happening nationally and internationally, local demographics and cultural factors (values systems as in Spiral Dynamics) where a spiritual community is located; the psychology and culture of the spiritual community itself; the individual psychological factors involved, such as unconscious patters and biases through a Jungian lens; and, New Thought principles and how they allow us to interact with these other factors.
Actualizing greater diversity and inclusion (which are two different things, by the way), is more than just a decision. It involves a number of dynamics across a spectrum of human values systems, patterns of belief, and behaviors. Many well-meaning efforts fail to address these issues and do not result in the desired level of diversity – in fact, they may make things worse.
Malcom Gladwell’s statement “Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind,” is one of those quotes that people may agree is true for different reasons. Those who have accepted the value of diversity and inclusion as welcome, even essential, may see it as a call for those who have not to come to accept the wise world view already accepted by some. Those who do not see diversity and inclusion as all that desirable may see it as a call for those who are so self-righteous about the issue to stop badgering them and “wake up and smell the coffee.”
The human tendency to feel more comfortable with one’s own kind is ancient and ingrained in us to a significant extent. For our tribal forebearers, inviting diversity into a community could well have been a death sentence for a variety of reasons. Banishment from the tribe, was likewise akin to a death sentence. This tribal values system is a part of each of us, and while it may be more intelligent to move past it in our postmodern world, there are reasons why not everyone will be on board – or at least not at the same time.
On a more individual basis, when diversity and inclusion are treated like a pill which must be swallowed, the natural tendency of many people will be to resent both the need for the pill and whoever is administering it. Statements of justification, however valid, will run up against ingrained values systems and beliefs in the unconscious mind (meaning that they are inaccessible to direct conscious intervention). This leads to resistance. Telling me that something is good for me is not the best way to get me to eat or drink it – “eat your spinach!” My personal programming from childhood tells me to immediately be suspicious that it will not taste good. So, I will resist and perhaps demur. As an adult, I can fairly easily overcome this resistance and take a taste, but the resistance is there, nonetheless.
“Resistance blooms naturally in the presence of change. You will encounter resistance in attempts at ascendance, physical or spiritual.”
~ Gregg Levoy
If you tell me that it is mandatory that I taste the “good for me” substance, I may well review my agreements with you and/or your organization to see if I have other options. I will do this even if I agree with you that the substance may well be good for me. I don’t like being told what to do and I especially don’t like being told what to value. I will unconsciously rebel, at least to some degree, in such circumstances, even if I agree with you on a conscious level. How this resistance is responded to by spiritual leaders and other community members is critically important. If those who resist are belittled or shut-down, their resistance will likely harden. The breakthrough may never come.
The other morning, as I opened my French language homework (Dorianne and I are studying French) and saw what the assignment was, I recoiled and briefly considered leaving the course of study. Now, I am not going to do that. I will “eat my spinach,” but I won’t be entirely happy about it. I will do it because, as an adult, I see the value in continuing, despite my discomfort. It is helpful that I am continually reminded of the value of knowing how to speak with my neighbors here in France.
The value of diversity and inclusion, on its own, may not be a strong enticement for some. We in the United States live in a nation which elected Donald Trump as president, and the values associated with the worldviews represented by that choice – among them being a desire for less diversity – are clearly prevalent enough for its adherents to gain political power. In the UK, the Brexit vote was made largely out of a visceral desire to make that nation less diverse. Similar electoral results in Italy, Austria, Poland, Germany, Brazil, the Philippines and other places should get our attention. Diversity and inclusion are not currently universal values of humans in developed nations; in fact, they are relatively new to the scene in human cultural development. Spiral Dynamics (LINK) can be helpful in understanding these dynamics.
You may respond, but this is New Thought, and we are different – we are more conscious, more loving, more open than the average in our larger culture. And I agree with these statements, in general, people in New Thought spiritual communities are more likely to see diversity and inclusion as values worth supporting. This is critically important, because an openness to a different way of being, even if not universally supported, is necessary for any community to be willing to go through the ordeal of actual change required to actualize such a value where it is not currently manifest. Because we also know that saying that we want diversity and inclusion is different that actually making the changes in behaviors, both collective and individual, which are necessary to make greater diversity and inclusion a reality.
To this I add the very important and often forgotten concept of how change occurs. We recognize in all New Thought teachings that in order to manifest something different in one’s life, one has to effect a change in consciousness, which leads to a change in conditions. As Michael Beckwith has said so many times, “What must I become to manifest my vision?” So, this question can be expanded to say, “What must this spiritual community become to manifest our vision of greater diversity and inclusion?” When I see and hear discussions about increasing diversity and inclusion, I rarely hear this approach. More often it is something like this, “We are already welcoming and affirming, why don’t we have greater diversity?”
This second statement puts the power outside and seems to indicate a belief that my experience of life will change without me changing. In other words, this statement is at best a misunderstanding of New Thought principles.
In the next posts, I will explore diversity and inclusion efforts from the macro to the micro – from the society at large, to the culture of the spiritual community, to the individual psychology involved. Then, in the final segment, I will explore how to effectively apply New Thought principles to each of these areas in order to increase the likelihood of creating and maintaining successful diversity and inclusion programs.
As always, your comments along the way are encouraged! As are stories of success or lack of success in doing this work in your own spiritual communities. Please share this post with others who may find it of interest.
Copyright 2019 – Jim Lockard
I am again honored to be a presenter at the Inspired Writer’s Retreat: March 23 & 24
at the beautiful Château de Bossey near Geneva, Switzerland.