Yet another way we offer up our minds when we could just think for ourselves

EDI training. What will they think of next?

vol. 2 issue 56


I learned a new “word” this week: EDI. It means “equality, diversity, and inclusion” and is now an entire industry, complete with its own academic journal, presumably read by the EDI facilitators who run such training for any number and types of organizations who are concerned that they are not woke enough. I guess when you’re no longer a part of the corporate world as is the case with me, or the companies you’ve worked for are untroubled by the level of “wokeness” however little or great it may be, and so do not hire EDI trainers, also the case with me and my past employers, then it’s easy to remain unaware of such things.

But I know about it now, and have some thoughts.

The first is that it’s certainly a good thing that people are talking about how, as a nation overall, we’ve not been equal, not welcomed diversity, not had hearts swelling with an inclusive love of our fellow americans. Because overall, we haven’t.

My second thought is, Whoa, tiger! It sounds like when we codify how we’re supposed to think about our factual hard heartedness and all its forms (racism, sexism, ageism – all the isms!) and then how we’re supposed to proceed with still more codified formulas for how to rectify that fact’s negative impact on generations of americans, that it’s a set up for nothing much getting done.

Sure, there are plenty of people in this country who well and truly do not believe they are racists yet are, or, who are not overtly racist, and certainly would not ever personally act horribly to a person whose skin is not white, yet who also have never understood at a fundamental level how being white, and especially a white male, has elevated their rank in the hierarchy of access to resources making their lives truly that much easier than anyone else’s. These are probably not the people who are going to respond to EDI training. Well, certainly not the first group, maybe the second.

But there are plenty of others who are earnest in their desire not to be racist, earnest to be good citizens, earnest to not offend. These are the people I worry about. They are the ones who are liable to go through the motions of EDI training with all that earnestness that ultimately will lead them to be not just compliant, but obedient. These are the people who, because they are good intentioned, will try and follow their new instructions for being an upstanding, non-racist person to the letter, and who will therefore be ripe for the same kind of manipulation as the MAGA people who worship a man who, among any number of his mondo bizarro incongruencies, bangs his cans about the evils of Socialism while flinging wide the doors to Russian money and influence (which, if you’ve been paying attention to world events in the past 50 years, is a bit of an oxymoron).

So, what I am saying is EDI sounds fishy. Do we really need more obedience from americans? I think we need far less.

What docu-mental has chronicled, explored, and mapped in the past two years has been what happens when people are all too eager and willing to offer control of their minds for a quick pay off. Attention aggregators, such as Facebook and Google, have bought and sold our minds without our explicit permission, yet certainly with our assent because we love free stuff.

We’ve looked at how wanting to believe in one’s specialness as reinforced by digital media memes and algorithms means we allow the newsfeeds that those attention aggregators “hand craft” for us in order to reinforce our specialness, to do our “thinking” for us in all areas of politics and religion. It’s rare that we suspect there are other views out there, since what we’re told is true based on what these aggregators know we already think is true, means we don’t have to do the heavy lifting any more.

We’ve considered the cost of how this ability of Big Data to buy and sell our information guts the  Constitution since how can we be free when others own who we are and how we think?

We’ve looked at the need to be safe through being a part of a group, and how that leads us to subvert our critical thinking faculties because safe is better than not safe, but not safe also means free to move about, to let one’s mind go where it will.

What I am getting at is that we have such a crap tolerance for pain, we would rather be told what to think and how to act accordingly. If we could withstand the pain of facing what we’ve done as a nation and who we have done it to – namely ourselves and our neighbors – we wouldn’t need EDI training. We just wouldn’t. We’d be tough enough to face what hurts and really sit with it. Then we’d say, Well, that sucks. Let’s not do that anymore. And we’d take action to ensure we don’t.

Remember what I wrote back in June, those of you who have been with me since at least then? I said I was sick and tired of writing about the shenanigans of this dimwitted occupant of the White House because it wasn’t the point. Him being our Avatar of Id is the point. And the thinking and the acting we need to embark upon as a result begins with facing our self-loathing for what we’ve allowed ourselves to become. I know it’s easier to follow a checklist for being a good person, but that is, as we’ve also explored “spiritual bypassing”. And for the record, I don’t like that jargon any more than I like EDI, but since it’s a thing and it is what I am talking about, I’ll go with it.

The occupant’s meaning for us as americans isn’t going to go away with him when he finally is dragged kicking and screaming from the Oval Office (or at least won’t be allowed in Air Force One any more since he apparently is never in the Oval Office).

It was with that declaration of not wanting to explore his personal short comings when I said let’s do something different. Let’s focus on how to deal with our pain, how to face it and derive meaning from it, and then move past it.

And the very first thing we did was look at how to create rituals where we name our national shame, where we attach it to the actual deed and then lament collectively about how we either allowed it or perpetrated it, or perhaps inherited the shame of it and still did nothing about it. That was when my guest at the time, Dr. Gwendolyn Reece, named our shame: murdering the indigenous people and stealing their land, and enslaving black Africans to work on the stolen land.

Next, we spoke with the descendants of slaves about what reparations could look like, and then we looked at how the arts offer us ways to create healing rituals and community forums to address this and any other shame, and how having a more compassionate heart when approaching policymaking the way a poet would can lead to better policies. We explored being more compassionate to those whom we have asked to fight on our behalf – law enforcement officers – and we explored in great detail how it hurts to be, as Gloria Steinem has said, “ranked instead of linked”.

But one thing we didn’t explore was how to codify what anyone should think, or tell anyone what they should personally feel ashamed of.

Having never had EDI training myself, I run the risk of panning it, but it still makes me uncomfortable. If there are trainers, then there must be a curriculum. If there’s a curriculum, then there must be right and wrong answers. Who made the decisions about who is wrong and who is right?

It’s just as easy to be an angry, arrogant arsehole when you’re given power over people you think shouldn’t have power in the first place, as it is to be an arrogant arsehole when you are the one with power you didn’t do anything to have. In the end, it’s just a bunch of arrogant arses in a linear equation where someone is up and the other is down on the seesaw. There seems to be a lot of rectitude in the air, but what about healing?

I’ll leave you with a final thought, something for you to puzzle over on your own time.

There is one thing a reformer can never become: an incumbent.

Feel free to leave your thoughts or comments below.

Yesterday I recorded an excellent interview for next week’s installment in the healing the american states of mind series. It’s a conversation with James Griffith, MD, chair of the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at George Washington University School of Medicine. “Griff”, as he is known to those who have had the great pleasure to work with him, succinctly lays out the neurobiological reasons for our nation’s political divide and what we can do to heal it.

Yes, that’s right. Our national divide, the one causing us anxiety and other mental distress, has a scientific explanation for it, one that is rooted in how our brains work. How we move past the divide and heal – an endeavor he and I agree is decades more in the making – is what we discuss within our cultural and personal contexts. Sadly, it would seem that not all of us will choose to be a part of the solution, either because we’ve allowed that hijacking of our minds I have been talking about, or because we are just too scared or uninvested.

Maybe EDI is effective. If so, tell me I am wrong. In the meantime, I suggest this instead: contemplating a thoughtful, soul searching performance as an alternative to EDI. To that end, the Philadelphia Opera Company today began streaming Cycles of My Being.

Here’s a gorgeous sample of this song cycle about the experience of being a black American man. It asks, America, do you love me?

The tenor is Lawrence Brownlee, and wow, is he ever powerful but also lyrical and expressive. He sings the question as an invitation:

Do you love me?

The question invites you, me, anyone to engage with him about race and discrimination generally, while also forcing us to consider his anguish personally as he sings the question.

Even if thousands of us contemplate the implications of this question, our response is uniquely our own, and so will be our course of action as a result.

The likelihood is that it will be a course toward, not away from love, peace, and communication. More on that next week when we hear from Dr. Griffith.

The music of this song cycle was composed and is conducted by Tyshawn Sorey, while the lyrics were co-written by Brownlee and Terrance Hayes, whose book of poems, American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin forms the basis for the entire work. You can learn more about the sonnets here.

If you would like to discuss this work, you can comment about it below, too.

That’s it. I’m exhausted. The weeks are so long lately. I just try to remember it’s never about him or “them”. It’s always about us, and that I can do my part to make it less about our pain and more about our growth. So can you, if you choose.