Be the Change that You wish to see in the World

This famous quote by Mahatma Gandhi can be both simple and difficult to interpret which I am sure is his intent. If you read his autobiography which is subtitled “OR The story of my experiments with the truth” I believe he is asking us not to look to others to make sense of the world but to look inside and ask ourselves why we see the world as an individual in the way we do and also then to extrapolate as to how our actions which are the result of how we see the world then impact upon others.

Diversity (I really now dislike that word and the toxic connotations it can hold for me and so I will furthermore describe diversity as “managing difference” which is inclusive of all), I believe starts with how we individually relate to the world and specifically to other people.

I believe there is both a moral and business case to managing difference well. Peter Singer in his book Practical Ethics uses a wonderful model to describe equality not as treating people equally but according to their “equal consideration of interests”. He argues that it is right and proper to treat people according to their interests and not based on their characteristics.

Take this example from his book.

 

“Take a relatively straightforward example of an interest, the interest in having physical pain relieved. Imagine that after an earthquake I come across two victims, Person A with a crushed leg, in agony, and Person B with a gashed thigh, in slight pain. I have only two shots of morphine left. Equal treatment would suggest that I give one to each injured person, but one shot would not do much to relieve the pain of the Person A with the crushed leg.”

 

I use this example in all the leadership (for me this includes managing difference) training and coaching that I currently do and the results are intuitively reassuring in that the majority of participants give more of the morphine to the person with the crushed leg. The result is not skewed by culture, nationality, religion or any other factor. When difference is described philosophically in this way people understand that it is perfectly acceptable to extend this principle to certain groups and then to give those groups more resources than others because of the disproportionate disadvantage incurred by belonging to that group.

 

This is I believe a fundamental principle in understanding how we as individuals view and relate to the world. What comes from this, is an acceptance that “other” is not something to be feared or viewed with distrust but to be understood and related to, whatever and whoever the “other’ maybe.

It is also very interesting that having established this principle with the participants, it is possible to widen the discussion even further by introducing the protected characteristics defined by the law and ask people “So would your decision change if: –

  • Person B was a member of your family?
  • Person A was old and Person B was a child?
  • Person A was disabled and Person B were able bodied?

 

And so on and so forth adding more and more philosophical conundrums to the initial question.

If we accept that it is fair, based on this example to give differently to different groups based on their ‘Equal Consideration of Interests” whether as an individual or as a group, then we begin to understand that managing difference cannot be based on trite political straplines such as

 

  • Everyone on benefits is a scrounger

Or

  • All rich people are tax dodgers

Or

  • Any  other stereotype

Because we then reduce everyone to the lowest common denominator that fits our view of the world and it will almost certainly be at fault. Even if it does make us feel more secure and sure of our place in the world.

This can be distinctly uncomfortable for us because it challenges our established view of the world as we see it. But isn’t that the point of how we live our lives? To constantly challenge ourselves and where necessary others, in order, to develop a more rounded view of the world and others in it.

This will be the subject of my next blog.

“Why do we see the world, the way we do and what is the impact on our behavior?”

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