Ep. 80: Diversity, Inclusion & Stoicism | Kai Whiting
We like to add words into our Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) lexicon. In some places they’ve added belonging to the mix – DEI & B. There’s also JEDI – Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. What’s next?
Kai Whiting has a suggestion to replace it all with the ancient wisdom of Stoicism, and I think he’s onto something.
There is only one static identity in Stoicism and that is our common humanity. Outside of this commonality we are all a composite of multiple identities, that are constantly being drawn upon depending on our interaction.
In one moment, I may be pulling on my identity as a mother when figuring out the best education decision for my son. The next moment, when speaking on China, I’m drawing on my identity as an international relations specialist and teacher. Within the next hour, I’m a student, learning the principles of Moral Courage.
While there is a common thread to these identities, they not only have their own very distinct internal characteristics, but also follow different external social mores. The confidence that I may exhibit as a teacher is not at play when acting as a student, and similarly the power that I hold in each role is mutable. Each of these identities calls me to draw on different attributes and, of course, they show up differently in different contexts. My various identities co-exist without tension because they represent different parts of the whole of our humanity.
When we adhere to one identity, we are locking ourselves into a paradigm that doesn’t allow for us to express the fullness of our human experience. Likewise, when we allow an immutable identity to completely define how we present to the world, our ability to interact fully is diminished.
When these rigid identities define our full selves, conversation and connection are lost. After all, why even have a conversation with someone if there is no way that they could ever understand your “lived experience”. And when we limit our encounters only to those with similar identities, we deny ourselves the richness of the full human experience.
The nuance and complexity that defines the multiplicity of this human experience is stripped of detail and we are left as avatars for a group identity that only captures a sliver of who we are and what we are capable of. The context of our daily lives becomes monotonous as we twist every experience, interaction, and relationship to fit narrow parameters that allow us to sit in the comfort of a tribe.
According to Stoic principles, as adults, we all have the agency to change this drab insistence on a stagnant identity. We may not be able to change the world, but we can change ourselves. One conversation at a time. Conversations and connections that disrupt the comfortable patterns of a monochromatic existence. This brings us into the messy, often uncomfortable, but colorful world of vibrant individuality that embraces the multiple identities that define a life worthy of being lived.
In the Hold my Drink — navigating culture with a chaser of civility, and Counterweight podcast, Episode 80, I speak with Stoic Kai Whiting. Kai explains how applying Stoicism to practices of diversity and inclusion, both provides important context and introduces the complexity and nuance of our various identities. When we focus on our common humanity, and also recognize that we are not locked into static identities, we open up conversations and cross divides. All discussed with a chaser of civility, of course, and a Red Bull.
Hold my Drink welcomes all people with all kinds of beverages to join us as we explore the truths of a chaotic and beautiful world, together.
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Kai Whiting is a co-author of Being Better: Stoicism for a World Worth Living In. He is a researcher and lecturer in sustainability and Stoicism based at UCLouvain, Belgium. He Tweets @kaiwhiting and is a co-founder of theWalledGarden.com, a place for Stoic community, discussions, and mentorship! He is also the co-founder of Wisdom Unlocked, a non-profit organization that uses Stoic principles to help people cultivate good character in difficult circumstances. Please see: https://wisdomunlocked.org