Since 1977, I have been sending out a newsletter called LEARNINGS. Here is how I began the first issue:
This newsletter—LEARNINGS—is my way of sharing with you what I am learning. Often I learn something with one client that would have been useful with another client the day before. In order to bridge that gap of time and also to bridge the gap of space that separates me from clients and other friends outside Cleveland, I will share my learnings with you regularly in this newsletter.
That statement feels amazingly accurate more than 35 years later. The only real change is that I moved from Cleveland to London and then on to the Crook of Devon in Scotland.
In the earlier newsletters, I shared one or two learnings each time. Then I read a wonderful book by Michael Phillips called The Seven Laws of Money. He describes the Taoist approach to creating Seven Laws about anything.
I like that approach except that instead of announcing Laws, I prefer to share Learnings. I’ve now discovered Seven Learnings about all sorts of things, including Journaling, Love, Retreat, and Diversity. The latest Learnings starts here; the rest are in the Learnings Archive.
NTL Institute’s latest book contains my chapter entitled “I’m A Straight White Guy – So What’s Diversity Got To Do With Me? This is a condensed version of my seven learnings.
1. IT’S ME
Diversity begins with me. Before I criticise your accent, I remind myself that I have an accent too.
If I meet another straight white guy, I have one kind of impact. But if I meet a woman or a Malaysian or a homosexual – then I have a different impact. The impact comes from the groups – heterosexual, white, and male – that I represent.
I used to argue, “Hey, it’s not my fault that some other straight white guys do bad things!” That does nothing to change the fact that – as a straight white guy – I represent groups that are doing bad things. Now I work with other straight white guys to learn about myself and to begin changing things.
2. IT’S YOU
You are the one who knows who you are. When I first met Dee St. Cyr, I described her as a Native American. She reacted by saying that anyone born in America could be a Native American. Dee said, “I am an American Indian.” Now I ignore the Politically Correct descriptions and instead listen for what I call Personally Correct descriptions.
3. IT’S US
We can work together by becoming allies for each other. As an ally, I can object to sexist jokes in a group of men. As an ally, I can speak up for my gay friends – particularly when they are not in the room. As an ally, you can speak up for the straight white guys who are making an effort to learn.
I first learned about allies from watching my father. He spent a lot of time in rooms where there were only straight white guys like him. But he spoke up for the people outside the room. And he got those people into the room.
4. IT’S UP
Most of us are not aware of ourselves as being Up or dominant. But we are very aware of those times when we are Down or subordinate.
As Robert Terry points out so brilliantly in The Parable of Ups and Downs, Downs are very aware of how Ups discriminate against Downs. Downs are quite smart at dealing with Ups. But as soon as a Smart Down gets into an Up group, she or he starts acting Dumb Up.
I’m meeting with a client in London, who jokes that people in the company might not understand my American accent. I smile politely because I’m being Smart Down. Then I start work with a client from Poland, chattering away before I remember that English is his fourth language. I’ve gone right into Dumb Up.
5. IT’S DOWN
As a straight white guy, I learned a lot from my disabling injury. People looked away. People asked my companion what I wanted to eat – assuming that physical disability equals mental disability. Suddenly I was Down instead of Up.
So, now I really understand the fear of a young black man who is surrounded by a group of white guys? Do I understand the anger of a lesbian who is told she just hasn’t met the right man? Do I understand the rage of all sorts of people when someone like me says: “I’m a straight white guy – so what’s diversity got to do with me?
No. I cannot really understand. But I’m working on it.
6. IT’S DIFFERENCE
Sometimes we are not dominant or subordinate – just different.
Years ago, when I was working on a race-and-sex desegregation project, we did an outdoor training course. Eventually we came to a twelve-foot wall. We had to get over the wall as a team. Suddenly, all sorts of differences became equally valuable. To get over that wall, we needed the athletic ones and the clever ones, the little ones and the big ones.
7. IT’S LOVE
Many years ago my family had a painful day-long argument about the future of our family farm. Late in the evening, my mother finally brought us all back together. Since I was just learning to work with groups, I asked her how she had managed to do that. She said, “It’s about love, isn’t it?”
When I thank Mom for raising me so well, she says there really isn’t much to being a good parent: “We just provide you with a good growing environment. And we love you.”
You and I offer ourselves as “a good growing environment” for learning about diversity. When you and I confront each other, we each believe that the other person is worth the pain and the risk and the love.