These days, there is a lot of talk about diversity – and yet I still often feel like there is limited understanding of the notion. Diversity is about more than age or gender, cultural origin (I don’t like the notion of ‘race’, as I consider it a political concept) or religious background, sexual or political orientation, physical or mental ability, socio-economic status – ultimately it is about respecting each and every person, being and nature as having a right to be and to exist in their own unique and complex ways, defining their own views and their own identity. To me, it extends to understanding that a person does not remain the same over years, but can be different and evolving every single day. I’d like to go as far as to suggest taking nobody for granted, not assuming we ‘know’ somebody, but remaining open and curious – towards your nearest and dearest just as well as towards friends and colleagues or strangers – and to ask every day anew: “Who are you today? What matters to you today?” This is about respect. It is about acceptance. It is about inclusion, and about granting everybody a sense of belonging and a right to participation. It is about something called ‘intersubjectivity’ – seeing, understanding and respecting the other person as a subject in themselves, with their own identity. This is different from perceiving the other person, being or nature as an ‘object’ – which would be about projecting our own meaning-making about them on them (and themhaving no – potentially corrective – voice in that).
These days, we hear about inter-cultural competence. I’d like to lobby for inter-diversity competence, for inter-subjective competence. (With the latter, I thought I might have come up with a slightly odd notion, but I googled it and found indeed a book refering to the same notion: ‘Cosmopolitics – thinking and feeling beyond the nation’, by Pheng Cheah and Bruce Robbins.)
If we each engage in this mutual give-and-take of understanding each other in our highly diverse and complex identities and ways – of seeing the world, making our own meaning and creating our lives – if we all offer each other this kind of understanding, respect and inclusion, then that is about mutuality.
These days, mutuality is the most important thing to me – I find that no relationship of any kind can be satisfying if there isn’t sufficient mutuality offered. To me, this is so in personal relationships just as well as in professional connections. We need it between lovers, between parents and children, between friends and neighbors, between co-workers, between superiors and the people reporting to them, between organisations and their stakeholders, between nation states. If one keeps giving and the other one does not reciprocate or reciprocates badly, the balance is off. I find it is important that we pay attention to always balancing out the mutuality account, in a good way.
I guess these are the two biggest things moving me these days – seeing and understanding each other in our everyday-anew complex identities, and offering each other positive mutuality.
As my wonderful tutor in university, Caryn Vanstone, once said: “We are always in relation. We cannot not be in relation. What matters is the quality of the relationship.” And as mentioned above, that extends beyond people – to all beings, and to nature.