Heard over time in the halls of People’s Church: “When you think of it, really, anyone can be discriminated against in any situation.”
One of my deeper daily practices for some decades now has been to work on shifting the events inside my own brain from a yes-no, right-wrong, either-or framework, to the exploration that two or more things can be true at the same time – even if I can’t immediately make rational sense of how that could be the case. Over decades of focusing on human behaviors, beliefs and attitudes, I’ve concluded that almost everything to do with human beings is multi-layered, with multiple truths existing at the same time. Both-And.
Our (white supremacy) cultural habit is to take that quote above and try to decide that EITHER it is true OR it isn’t true. Did you notice yourself doing that when you first read the quote? I did. I felt reactive, and wanted to argue with the speaker.
Either-Or is one of the dynamics that has a lot to do with our stuckness in understanding each other, resulting in more separation and less connection. In Either-Or, our ears shut down as soon we think we know what the one right or true thing is. And we wonder then what’s wrong with the other person that they could possibly believe what they do!
Instead, applying the Both-And framework to the above quote could look like this: It is true that in any one micro situation, events can unfold that result in an unfairness or a bias against me, regardless of who I am. I’ve most certainly experienced this many, many times in my life. It doesn’t feel good.
AND. It is also true, in the macro sense, that some groups of people experience chronic bias. So consistently in fact that it impacts the very fundamentals of their life – employment, education, financial stability, housing, physical safety, food.
While both of these truths result in a wrong-ness and a discomfort, they are not equivalent. One results in a momentary discomfort, which one can most likely escape from. Maybe something similar will happen to me again; maybe not. It’s still unfair and unpleasant, and that makes it a relevant event.
The other truth, however, came into being through the long term, systematic creation of structures, institutions, laws, policies, practices that are oppressively and persistently employed to the advantage of one group and the direct disadvantage of other groups. This other truth can also show up as individual micro events, similar to the first. The persistent experience of these individual events, however, will collectively result in a loss of ability to survive well, or perhaps to survive at all. And it cannot be escaped.
If we want justice. If we believe in the dignity and worth of every human being. We must learn to see multiple simultaneous truths. We must learn not to dismiss anything that is true, and to do the very hard work of figuring how each truth interconnects with the other ones. And to reflect on the relative impact of each.
I invite you to join me in the practice of Both-And. It’s really hard. I predict you’ll occasionally feel overwhelmed at the largeness of our harmful Either-Or habit as you tug on one thread of it and then begin to see the size of the cloth. And I predict that if you stay with it, you’ll be amazed at how your life changes.
May all beings be safe,