November 10, 2011

Warts and All

First things first: How do you like the Banner?  Pretty shnazzy eh?  The designer is none other than our very own Isa "Little One" Velasquez; a wonderful Mantid and dear friend.  Thanks so much for your work, Little One!  I hope it makes you proud!

Now then...on to today's topic.

The Path to Inclusivity

I received some very positive feedback both in person and digitally on the subject of my last post, and one respondent pushed the topic further in my mind by asking me: "So?  Even if you're right, how do you fix a problem this colossal in scale?" Today I hope to do justice to that question by presenting you with what I believe to be the best answer.  It's by no means a complete answer and whole books are probably published on this very idea, but it's where I stand.  By the way, I won't rehash the initial post much, so if you're just joining us and have gotten lost, go read the article.  It's not that long and it's a good one. 

As far as I can tell, any major social change in the United States (or the rest of the world as far as I know) starts small and expands from there.  With this in mind, it seems logical to look to a small or neglected area of our life that can be changed or improved in order to start the ripples.  Thus, I submit to you my choice for the small, seemingly insignificant, oft-overlooked part of our lives that will be our pebble in the lake: the self.

"But, Trevor!" I hear you cry, eagerly awaiting my humiliation and resignation as you observe: "The self isn't neglected!  People are selfish, evil, greedy, jerks who think about themselves all the time! In fact, isn't that why they trample over people who are different to them in the first place?"  Yes and no.

I agree that the more selfish inward facing tendencies of humanity are certainly to blame for some of this, and I will even go so far as to say that this aspect of our lives receives a great deal of attention (at least in the US) most of the time.  BUT, I would also like to make it clear that, to my mind, those selfish tendencies are not the result of self-awareness. They are the result of self-ignorance.

Self awareness is at its heart about the understanding AND accepting of one's whole being.  It's easy (often) to recognize a particular flaw in your person.  Perhaps you know yourself to be short-tempered.  Some of you may know that you're prone to procrastination (Note: Tumblr may be an addictive substance but it's still on you...don't pull that excuse on me!). Some of you may even know you're racist, homophobic, heterophobic, misogynist, mishominist, etc.  Maybe you just hate "normal" people. So what?  It's great that you know that, but knowing something doesn't amount to much of anything.  Thinking about, believing in, and understanding yourself are all wonderful...and ultimately meaningless. Actions define us, and what's required of you in these situations is to do more than simply "know" thyself.  You must accept your self for what it is.

So what does this mean for inclusivity?  Well, in my experience, the biggest source of exclusive behaviors is the constant, unsettling, discomfort people have with their own quirks and flaws.  This is not to say that anyone is wrong to feel unsettled by themselves, but it is incredibly important to accept that you are a flawed and imperfect being.  I get the sense that everyone acknowledges this at some level, but acknowledgment and acceptance are NOT the same fact, it's this basic distinction that is the source of Us vs. Them.  I.e., "We acknowledge you exist....but we do not accept it." And, honestly, I get it.  Those people are clearly flawed.  They might look alright now, but once you dive in, there's all sorts of problems.  I understand this line of thinking...but I do NOT accept it.

See the problem isn't that they are's that you are, and can't deal with that. This, as far as I have seen, is the source of all these problems.  How is it even possible to accept someone else, warts and all, if you can't even do it for yourself?  We like to talk about our flaws as things to be excised from our being, or something that keeps us from reaching our true potential.  We frame the discussion as one of reaching to overcome your flaws and become a better person for them.  I suggest that this is both inappropriate and outright impossible.  Faults and flaws are not "the bad parts" of a human being.  They aren't anywhere as bad as either of those words would imply.

How do I know? Assume that they really are "bad parts".  What makes them that way?  What is it that's inherent to your qualities that makes them either good or bad?  After all, the bruised patch on your luscious peach isn't a "bad" part of the's just the one you like least.   It's a judgment placed from the outside that is by it's very nature a biased one.  The peach isn't good except for it's bruise.  Besides, without that's not the same peach.

Coming to terms with your flaws and faults may not be the easiest thing in the world to do, but it's arguably the most vital step in completing your personal evolution.  I liken it to the biological function of sleep, for we often frame sleep in the same way we frame our flaws.  We tell ourselves stories like "if we didn't need to sleep for so many hours, think of all the things we could accomplish" or "sleep just keeps you from doing the things you like to do or from getting your job done".  We don't do wonderful things in spite of the need to sleep.  Without sleep, our brain doesn't function right.  No, it's not that the brain is insufficiently powered...we don't know enough about the brain to make such a claim.  I posit that the brain is capable of the wonders it is because of what it's downtime allows it to do.  Besides, we have some powerful evidence to this effect: people DIE without sleep.   

Similarly, we are not doing well on this earth despite our flaws.  Our flaws are an integral part of our being and without them we would not be who we are.  Sure, those flaws aren't appealing, but that's not the point.  Every genius in history has probably also been crazy to the point of insanity.  Every talented artist on earth has had some bizarre quirk to their behavior that puts them on the border of madness.  Nothing is great without also carrying flaws.  It's not because things need to be balanced in some cosmic game. That's one of those flights of fancy we like to tell since it makes us feel like we know what's going on in the universe.  The real reason is that those "flaws" are what it takes to make you "you"; to make you great.

Returning to the topic of inclusivity (I swear this is almost done, now), think for a moment about what it would take to accept the other into your life?  That's right...they are like the peach.  You can't have it or them without it's flaws.  Their flaws, like yours, will bring magnificent things to your world if you simply allow them to.  But before you can do this, you must first accept your own "bruises".  They won't go away, no matter what anyone tells you.  You must learn to accept them as part of who you are.  Once you acknowledge these darker, more unpleasant aspects, you can learn to either love them, or change them...but first you MUST accept that they are you.  In an odd way, they may even represent the best things about you.

For the population at large to become more inclusive, the individuals comprising it must first claim responsibility for their small part in the change.  This is true of all movements or organizations that seek to change the popular mindset, so it should be just as true of this one.  In the name of acceptance and tolerance, we must each search our selves for that thing within us that we hate or fear the most...and embrace it gladly!

The Inclusivist Movement needs to start within each individual. Go forth, and accept thyself!

I'm Trevor, and that's my Frame of Mind.


  1. Spoken like a true yogi...

    वस्तुसाम्ये चित्तभेदात् तयोर्विभक्तः पन्थाः
    vastu-saamye chitta-bhedaat tayor vibhaktah panthaah (Yoga Sutra IV.15)
    Everything is empty; different minds perceive the same thing differently according to their own prejudices and states of mind.

    We cannot see anything in another that we do not have within ourselves. If we see love, kindness, compassion, goodwill or "inclusivity" in another being, that is because we have those qualities in us--we have put those qualities "out there" and thereby enabled ourselves to find them "out there." Conversely (or is it inversely?), if we see sourness, resentment, jealousy, hostility or exclusivity in another being, that is because we have those qualities in us and have put them out there.

    This phenomenon is a great gift; it is empowering, freeing. If, when we encounter unpleasant behavior in others we look for that same behavior in ourselves (which is usually very hard to find, but it is always there in some way), we have the opportunity to recognize a part of ourselves that we don't like, accept that it is and has been part of us, and move through it, see it for what it is without becoming attached to it, without self-righteousness (like, "Unlike him, I have a right to feel this way because...). And when we expose it to the light of day, we can let it go and opt for another way of being that will feel better and will attract the kind of others we want to have in our lives.

    The only way to find a peach without a bruise is to find our own bruises and accept them fully, which is pretty much what I hear Trevor so eloquently saying. How cool that yoga and so many other spiritual traditions have been saying the same thing for thousands of years.

  2. I don't think this works. For an individual person, it can solve the problem. But I don't see this as just, or even primarily, an individual-level problem: it is a problem of populations (large social groups). If only the occasional person were intolerant, those people would not be able to make their intolerance felt on a large enough scale to matter. The problem is that intolerance is quite endemic. In fact, I would guess it is the rule, not the exception.

    So how would we go about getting large numbers of people to undergo this kind of drastic personal transformation? Incentives? (What kind? Can we afford it?) Re-education camps? (Gulag?) I don't know how we would do it that way. I don't see how a one-person-at-a-time solution can really work.

    I do know, from decades of public health experience, that you can't deal effectively with a polluted water supply by telling people to boil their water before using it, Yes, if you boil your water consistently, you will protect yourself. But the reality is that people don't do it consistently. The only effective solution is a population-scale water purification system that delivers potable water at the tap.

    There is also the observation over history that personal attitude change tends to follow, not precede, changes in behavior and social norms. The Civil Rights era is a good and familiar example. We outlawed certain types of discrimination, and began enforcing those laws back in the 50's and 60's. Over decades, attitudes towards racial minorities changed. Yes, there remains a core of racism, and there is more to do--but things have come a long way. And it was the social imposition of new norms that preceded changes in personal attitudes.

    So, as I see it, the question is what population-scale interventions can we bring to bear on the problem of tolerance. (Which would in no way preclude individuals seeking to follow that path that Trevor set out, but would not depend on it.)