Equity – going deeper …
This is an edited version of the video on this page.
The card for this equity pattern has a good picture which makes a really good distinction between equality and equity. It shows these three guys standing on crates trying to pick apples. To illustrate “equality” we see the tall, medium and short guys each standing on one crate – but only the tall guy can get at the apples. The other two guys can’t even reach them. To show “equity” – which is equality of opportunity – the second picture shows the tall guy standing on one crate, the middle guy standing on two crates, and the small guy standing on three crates. Now all of them can reach the apples. That’s equality of opportunity, or equity.
The pattern heart says that although absolute equality is meaningless, historic systemic injustice and privilege distort human well-being and arbitrarily marginalize needed voices and energies, distorting society’s power relationships and capacity for collective wisdom among races, genders, classes, cultures, and other deeply held or visible identities.
This is interesting to me because last year I learned a lot about “white space”, which is a situation where all the racially inequitable assumptions and dynamics are present, often unseen by white people. Even if a black person is authentically invited into that space, they will feel that the space is “white”… and they will feel uncomfortable: They will have to pay special attention and do special things and not say certain things in order to be able to be in that space with other people. So that’s what is meant by “spaces” in the pattern’s heart.
Similarly if there’s no ramp for a disabled person, then you don’t have a space that is welcoming to them.
There’s so many dimensions to this!
But one of the things that I realized, that is really fundamental in the equity card, is the way it embodies the prime directive of democracy. The prime directive tells us to evoke and engage the wisdom and resourcefulness of the whole on behalf of the whole. Now, there’s two parts to this: In the first part, we’re invoking and engaging the wisdom and resourcefulness of the whole and in the second part we’re doing that on behalf of the whole.
So think about that: If we have divided ourselves in ways that lead us to oppress each other and take advantage of each other and exploit each other, we’ve broken up the whole. Unfortunately, these differences make up a lot of what people think of as “diversity”. Race, gender, class, culture – all these these differences are largely used to oppress each other. And because some of us have oppressed others of us, such distinctions become important and people – on both sides of the oppression/privilege divide – start to identify themselves and others AS those things.
In doing so, we lose track of this other pattern called “Complex Identity” – that all of us have many qualities and dimensions. People tend to reduce their identity and reduce each other’s identity to one of these categories of habitual oppression and they become proud that they are black or a woman or white or whatever. Your identity becomes reduced to one of these things. And that itself is one of the biggest problems with a society that has lots of inequities: it reduces who people think they are, both themselves and each other.
And so when you try to evoke and engage the wisdom and resourcefulness of the whole, you only have a pile of parts of the whole – the divided people in the community, the alienated people in the society, the embattled people involved in a situation. And in among them, you’ve got all these parts of the whole that are being marginalized and not being taken into account. Which means you’re not taking account what you need to take into account for the longterm broad benefit of everyone. Which means you can’t generate wisdom together!
So it turns out this whole equity issue has a direct bearing on our ability to manifest the underlying dynamics of wise democracy, our prime directive and our definition of wisdom. This was a significant realization for me, because I tend to think systemically and not personally. But most people working on equity issues – on racial equity and gender equity and whatever – a lot of the people working on those issues tend to focus on how hard oppressive dynamics make the lives of the people involved.
The wise democracy paradigm (due largely to my personal biases and limitations) has been less focused on that than on the systemic and cultural dynamics that facilitate or hinder the prime directive – that is, how do we access the wisdom and resourcefulness of the whole? So I have focused more on that than on the effects oppression and marginalization have on individuals.
But then I realized that equity is so much about ensuring everyone has adequate opportunity to develop and give their particular gifts to the whole. So this is about opportunity – and not so much about having an opportunity to be a big deal in your life as about as having gifts – perspectives and knowledge and skills and experiences that you can share if you have the capacity – the opportunity – to develop and share them – if you can be heard, if you have enough education to be able to express yourself and see what’s going on, and if you are not marginalized, and if you’re welcomed into the center of what’s trying to be dealt with so that you are part of the conversation in all the ways that people can be part of the conversation.
So your historic or systemic oppression or marginalization plays a role in your ability to do all that, and so it needs to be part of how we organize the conversation, how we bring you in, how all kinds of people – the real whole – can be included. The whole question of inclusion is major major major here! But it’s about people’s gifts. They have something to offer that would be useful for taking things into account and generating broad benefits, so we want to create the larger systems, the interactions, and the spaces that will allow us to evoke – to draw up into reality – and to engage in a creative way whatever gifts everybody has.
And that requires looking through an opportunity lens – thinking about the ways we’re setting things up, the ways we’re creating our spaces. When people come into a space and when people interact with us, will they experience opportunity that draws out the best that they have to offer? From the wise democracy perspective, that needs to be a major piece of what’s going on.