The Whole of Us

When I was growing up in Morning Sun, Iowa (population always less than 1,000) my family attended the United Methodist Church. In my childhood I was a regular attender at Sunday School. The Sunday School hour began each week with singing. We would all sit on chairs in a semi-circle around the song leader and piano, then sing our lungs out. Really. Singing loud was the most important thing at that age. My friends and I would engage in weekly competitions to “out sing” one another. 

One of the songs that has stayed in my memory all these years speaks to an ethic which is more important than ever: 

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Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red and yellow, black and white
They are precious in his sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world

Yes, I know. The words are simplistic, they do not cover the full breadth of diversity recognized today and are not adequate to express that breadth. Still, they embedded in me as a child an ethical idea of inclusion which remains today.

My work focuses on helping organizations and communities make meaningful change on important issues for the whole organization or community which “stick,” which is to say, are sustainable. It is not easy nor is it simple and it is not fast. This kind of change takes a while, but the result is usually very satisfying and tends to create a positive spirit and culture in the organization or community. 

An important factor in getting to this place is the inclusion of the “whole,” as in everyone, in the process

Theoretically we all are likely to agree with this statement or some version of it. It is turning that theory into practice where we run into difficulty. It often comes down to who we include in our understanding of the “whole” of the group. If we follow the criteria of the children’s song above, we use a limited view of race to define the whole. 

The point is this: our criteria for membership determines who is included in the “whole” of a group, whether it is an organization, a community, a club, or a team. If we really wish to include the “whole” then we need an expanded definition of membership in the group. 

In fact, the criteria, or boundaries, we commonly use to define the “whole” of a group can be quite limiting even though our language sounds inclusive. For example:

  • Geography: “Everyone who lives within two miles.” 
  • Ownership: “Everyone who is a homeowner.”   
  • Language: “Everyone who speaks English” or “Everyone who speaks Spanish.”  
  • Ethnicity: “Everyone who is Caribbean” or “Everyone who is Irish.” 
  • Religion: “All must be Christians.” 
  • Income: “Every family that has at least $50,000 per year income.”
  • Education: “Everyone with a college degree.”  
  • Life experience: “Everyone who has been a teen father” or “Everyone who has overcome poverty to become successful.”  
  • Ability: “All must be able to lift 50 pounds.” 
  • Gender: “Everyone must be a natural-man” or “Everyone who is LGBTQ.”  
  • Organizational role: “All must be supervisors.”  
  • Age: “Everyone must be at least 19 years old but not older than 50.” 

The list can go on, and on, and on, and it often does though we are rarely conscious of all the criteria we use to determine who is considered “in” and who is “out” of the “whole” group. As you can see, just using the words “all” or “everyone” does not mean we are including the whole. There is a tendency in humans to think in terms of exclusion rather than inclusion, so we employ our criteria quite unconsciously to decide who is part of the “whole” group. 

One of the first challenges in working with the whole community is to become aware of this tendency toward exclusion and to teach ourselves to think in terms of inclusion. One simple technique for doing this is to substitute the word “and” for those times when we would typically use the word “but” when defining the whole group. For example, a tendency might be to say something like, “We need to include everyone who lives in our community but not renters or homeless people.” Instead we could begin changing our thinking by saying, “We need to include everyone who lives in our community such as homeowners and renters and the homeless.” Really, sometimes a small tweak in our language can make a big difference.

A core principle to organization and community change is that the more people who have meaningful involvement in the change the more likely the change will occur and “stick.” For this reason, it is important for us to shift our thinking from exclusion to inclusion. We may prefer exclusion because fewer people participating often means greater efficiency, less cost, and less time. Who can argue with these goals, right?  Unfortunately, it also means it is easier to get limited, even wrong, perspectives at the table, draw incorrect conclusions, and make decisions which benefit the few rather than the whole. 

Let us be completely realistic: can we include the whole group or community in the change by simply becoming more intentional about including and reaching out to everyone? No, because inclusion is a two-way street. All the members of the “whole” organization or community must be willing to be included.

However, when we are trying to work with the whole of a group, we have a responsibility to do everything we can to include everyone. 

  • We work to define the whole as broadly and inclusively as we can. 
  • We invite everyone to participate. 
  • We do everything we can to make it possible for everyone to participate. 
  • We are welcoming of all who show up. 
  • We continuously attend to the participation of everyone to ensure each voice is raised and each voice is heard. 
  • And when we inadvertently still exclude someone, which is likely because we are still fallible humans, we apologize, make the amends we can, and extend a genuine invitation to participate. 

Involving the whole organization or community in change is hard work but it is the kind of work that tends to pay off in the long run. We just must be willing to do the work of expanding our understanding of inclusion and the “whole” and then, take the time needed to engage everyone.  


Stupid People Come In All Ages and With All Ideologies

The Washington Post ran a disturbing story about a group of protesters harassing diners who were seated in an outdoor section of a restaurant in Washington. The protesters were mostly young and White. Kudos to them for joining in the protests in support of Black Lives Matter. However, their tactics were inappropriate to the point of deplorable. You will see what I mean when you read the article and watch the video. I understand youthful enthusiasm and I generally appreciate it. However I cannot applaud it, for any cause no matter how good, when it tries to coerce compliance. That was really, really stupid if the intent was to win support for the cause.


More Than a Movie Hero

This morning I learned that actor Chadwick Boseman died at age 43 after a four-year battle with colon cancer. I was shocked because I did not know he was ill. I was saddened because Boseman was an outstanding performer and had become one of my favorite actors. Boseman’s performance as the iconic Marvel superhero Black Panther in the 2018 movie is even more impressive now, knowing the film was shot even as he was dealing with the cancer.

Black Panther is a moving film with a powerful story unlike any other super hero movie I have ever seen, and I have seen a lot of super hero movies. However, there is another performance featuring Chadwick Boseman that touched me deeply. It was a stunt planned by Jimmy Fallon for The Tonight Show which, originally, might have been intended to have comedic impact. Instead, it was incredibly moving as Black men and women spoke of the meaning Boseman’s role and performance had meant to them in this time. Rest in peace, Mr. Boseman. You are the King of Wakanda…forever.


Looking Back Over the Past Week

Heather Cox Richardson, writing on August 27th in her daily column Letters from An American, offered her assessment of the Republican National Convention. Please take a few minutes to read it. It does start a bit dark, then she weaves in some history, and finally ends with a bit of assurance and optimism.


The View from Jeff

I am not sure if I have mentioned recently how much I appreciate Jeff Logan letting me use his sketches in this blog. I know he is incredibly busy in his life already and, add to that, he is finishing writing his dissertation (I think). Jeff, thank you so much! I love your sketches and I find them all too relatable to my life. For example, this morning, I had a bit of an accident with a cup of coffee…

The other day I was trying to get an early start on the day and I was texted, emailed and called simultaneously from three different projects. I ended up dumping my cup of coffee all over my self. Coffee is really good at waking you up when externally applied as much or more than the traditional internal application!! Luckily our couch is leather (ironically it’s colour is espresso).

Chickenman – The Final Episode…Maybe

This last episode is odder than usual. It seems there may be a few “lost” episodes after this one and between this episode (#97) and the previous one (#96). I am not sure how Chickenman and crew got to the Himalayan mountains for this episode. Nonetheless, that is where we find them in this last episode. Apparently the Commissioner, Miss Helfinger, and the Winged Warrior have been in conversation with infinitely wise Fernando Lama, not to be confused with the great Argentinian leading man.

This is the 97th and last episode of Chickenman I have available to me. To be honest, I am not sure if there are more episodes or not. To be even more honest, Chickenman was much funnier when I was in junior high and high school. Still it was a weird and wonderful journey down memory lane that still gave me an occasional chuckle.

Chickenman was created and voiced by Dick Orton for a Chicago radio station. It aired from 1966 to 1969. It is not clear to me how many episodes were made but I believe these 97 I have shared here were the majority of those produced. Today Chickenman can still be heard on satellite radio and on radio stations throughout the world.

In 1971 Orton created a new series, The Secret Adventures of the Tooth Fairy. There were over 300 episodes of Tooth Fairy and, like Chickenman, they aired throughout the world. Fortunately for you, dear reader, I could not find these episodes. However, at the previous link you will be able hear three of them.

Thanks for indulging my unusual comedic tastes over the past several months. And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming…


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for justice, peace, and health for all.

Tom

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