Thursday, April 23, 2009

Inclusively Generosity: The New and Improved Politically Correct

Boomers may remember Mr. Do Bee on Romper Room, the Bee that helped us learn the difference between right and wrong. This post is a grown-up version of my own Do Bee & Don’t Bee. Of course, by the time we’re part of the saging set; doing the right thing is more complicated like society itself. No matter, it’s still important, periodically, to examine our Bee-keeping skills.

Let’s start with my Don’t Bee: I don’t like the term politically correct (PC). It implies we are treating people the way politicians do—appeasing everyone, making the emotional equivalent of empty promises. The promise is respect. The correct part makes it an obligation. If you get it wrong, the PC police might rough you up a little. By word association alone, politically correct comes out feeling fake, disingenuous, and forced. No wonder so many people are sick of it.

The basic idea is right. Considering the feelings of others is the core of the Golden Rule. There’s just something wrong with the execution. The accent is on the wrong syllab'le. I’d like to think what we’re really aiming for is something I call inclusive generosity. Inclusive generosity implies that everyone counts and deserves acknowledgment. The generous part suggests it’s voluntary and can only be delivered with an open heart.

One of our strongest human needs is to belong. Belonging should not have to be in direct conflict with being “free to be you ‘n’ me.” Still, learning to respect and honor everyone takes real work and an ability to bend, especially your mind. To be inclusive, we must bother to get to know each other, what makes the other person tick, and to “walk a mile in his moccasins.” It takes time and commitment. Let’s face it: having your own little clique of look-alike or think-alike friends and family is delicious in its own way, but if that’s all you’ve got, it’s so high school. Maybe even grammar school.

In the past few years, I have had the opportunity to get to know to the work of Sharif Abdullah. Sharif is an author, proponent and catalyst for inclusivity and spiritual transformation. His work on inclusivity has taken him to over two dozen countries. His books include
The Power of One: Authentic Leadership in Turbulent Times, and Creating a World That Works for All. He is Director of Commonway Institute in Portland, OR. He offers a complete curriculum to help individuals or groups evolve in the principles of inclusion. He teaches them to create local communities of people who want to live with each other this way. To learn more, visit his website Shift in Action.

Generosity: Shift Happens
My Do Bee is inclusive generosity. To be an inclusive person is not only to be open-minded. It requires a generosity that hangs a welcome sign on the door of your heart and who you are. It asks you to tell others, “Come on in.” Then you sit down, have a cup of coffee or tea, chat, and find out what there is to like in one another. You uncover your common concerns. Soon, you realize you are more alike than different from most people.

I never cease to be amazed how a person can go from “those people” to “my friends,” whether it’s an issue of another race, religion, sexual orientation—whatever—just because an individual got to know someone externally different from himself. I have even seen this in seniors who are supposed to be resistant to change. All we have to do is to let someone get next to us.

As an example I am not proud of, my parents were prejudiced, which was typical in Chicago where I grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s. It is still too typical. I went to school along side young people of various races, mostly African American, but some Asian and other ethnic minorities. My high school was primarily a combination of rich white Protestant and middle-class Jewish kids, and lower to middle-class blacks from the other side of the tracks. They were still stuck in a segregated neighborhood.

My high school was also one of the top in the country in the early ‘60s. We talked about tough issues. Dialogue was not just encouraged, but stimulated. In this heady, sophisticated suburb the ultimate insult was to be called “ignorant.” It didn’t take me long to figure out that disliking, much less hating, people with a different skin color, religion, or look was ignorant to the max. This was especially true after I sat next to them in homeroom.

After high school, I attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison, a place I call the Berkeley of the Midwest. There were so many ‘60s protests; I nearly got tear gassed out of my apartment building as police tried to disperse picket lines below my second-floor window. The year after I graduated, a bomb blew up
Sterling Hall, a major campus building in protest against the University’s connections with the military in the Vietnam War. During the second half of the ‘60s into the ‘70s, I got educated further on diversity and having the courage of my convictions.

The crowning glory in opening my mind was my move to California in 1973. Noting the dramatic changes in my dress, talk, and beliefs, my sister used to say I “went California.” I disagree. I simply came home to a place that was so live-and-let-live, I was free to discover and be myself.

Goin’ to California in My Mind
The “Left Coast” is infamous for its liberal mindset, but truth to tell, there are a lot of conservatives here, too. (Remember Ronald Reagan?) If I thought I had experienced diversity up till then, I hadn’t seen anything like the infinite variety of friends and colleagues I’d meet once I moved to the place that gave my mind a horizon I could see forever. People have room here to be whoever they are, for the most part, without harassment.

We need to give others that kind of place. It’s the kind thing, the loving thing, the only thing. It’s the prescription for peace on earth and a divine domino effect of creating the kind of world we want to live in and leave to our grandchildren. Whether your spirituality or sense of justice drives you—or both—this is the only future we can envision and create on Planet Earth … if there is to continue to be a Planet Earth. You only hurt yourself and everyone you love, if you aren’t inclusively generous.

Take some time to review what you were taught about people who are different from you. Find out how many nasty voices are in your head, saying terrible, inaccurate things about innocent people. Have you exorcised those demons? If not, seek out people who are of that race, religion, sexual orientation—whatever the “out group.” Befriend someone and get to know him or her beyond the externals and stereotypes.

No two ways about it, even if you have evolved beyond those voices, they still can rear their ugly chants as a knee-jerk reaction when you encounter The Other. Deal with them. I grew up hearing racial and ethnic epithets bandied about, as if my relatives were talking about the weather. What’s even more ironic: their own nationality wasn’t exactly considered an asset when they landed on Ellis Island. My relatives have their own batch of bigoted names that people call them. Nothing has ever perplexed me more than one out-group dissing another. They belong to the same fraternity! Maybe it’s a form of hazing. Sadly, I suspect it’s more of a pecking order.

If we are ever to create that world that works for all, Sharif Abdullah’s vision, we have to care enough to educate others. Lately, I have resonated anew to the term “ignorant” that adults used around me when I was a teenager. While I felt they often said it in judgment, most intolerance is just that—ignorance. Think of what to ignore someone means. It is the polar opposite of inclusion. It is the perfect word for the malady that inclusive generosity seeks to heal.

Generosity takes that time commitment. Rather than “not getting into it” with my relative on a rant about illegal Mexican immigrants, maybe I can gently suggest there’s another side of the story. I don’t have to be out to convince him. Actually, I’m not. All I’m doing is taking him to my California mindset, where he has all the data, time, and wide open spaces to figure it out for himself …

… for once we truly open our minds, intolerance falls out.


Photo credit: SYMBOL HEART © Alexmax


PopArtDiva said...

I have come to a point that the term "politically correct" means joke time, maybe because of Bill Maher, lol. However, I have always disliked this term AND the concept.

We cannot change things by being "politically correct" indeed we cannot change things simply by applying surface cures - just not using a term does not mean a mind set has been changed.

Additionally, calling someone politically incorrect has come to be used as a sort of social blackmail, a club with which to beat people you don't agree with over the head - boink boink boink.

Maybe we could call in "humanly correct" instead?

Concord Carpenter said...

Great blog! Interesting posts, thanks for sharing your insight!

Concord Carpenter said...

Great blog! Interesting posts, thanks for sharing your insight!