Our ability to deal effectively with all the different situations we face in life depends on the degree to which we are able to appreciate and comprehend the full picture. But there is more to it …  Not only does it help us to find the best possible or most effective response, but even more importantly, we experience life more fully, in a richer and more fulfilling way, if we can broaden our insight with a sincere mind and heart. As much as it makes sense, it is very rare to see people willing and committed to grow a fuller and richer appreciation and understanding of the problems or challenges they encounter – particularly where people are involved. Not only do we have to open our mind, but also our heart,  and most difficult of all, our will.

Looking outside in and bottom up

As Richard Rohr says, we are much more likely to find the truth at the bottom and the edges of things (i.e., of the social/political/ economic structure) than at the top or the center. If we think of the state, then government would certainly be at the top and the elite or upper class in the centre. Don’t expect them to give you the ugly truth. Xenophobia, a worldwide phenomena, can be defined as ‘the unreasoned fear of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange … it can involve the relations and perceptions of an ingroup towards an outgroup’. The poor, the foreigner, the outgroup, the dropout, the homosexual and the disabled, looking from the outside in, will have a much more accurate view of the degree to which the country’s constitution is practiced as it is preached, than would the rest of us. Wise leaders would therefore do their utmost and the counterintuitive to stay in touch with the marginalised – including saying ‘no’ to the many temptations of self-enrichment and abuse of power.

Similarly, wise organisational leaders would deliberately acquaint themselves with the experiences of employees from the bottom up, and the experiences of customers from the outside in. Notwithstanding their busy schedules, having to travel from meeting to meeting and having to absorb the latest market indicators, they will steer their thinking to include the frustrations, disillusionment and sometimes anger of employees and customers as they complain about the lack of freedom and self-expression, or poor service from poorly trained and disempowered frontline people. Instead of lying awake trying to think of their next strategic business move, they would lie awake thinking how to lead more inclusively, empowering more and more people throughout the organisation.

Our fears

Inclusive thinking, of course, works both ways. As much as we may want to side with one group of people and feel solidarity with them, the challenge of inclusive thinking is to sincerely want to grow better understanding of those we find most difficult to associate with. The responsibility rests on each of us to make the effort of bridging the divide that exists – whether we are in the middle or on the edges, inside or outside.

When we look deeper, and with brutal honesty, into the reason for our ‘natural’ preference to attack or ignore the ‘other’, we will discover and have to admit that the negative feelings we have about ‘them’ are not in the least independent of our own fears and self-doubt. In fact, we are projecting our fears and doubts on them. We fear interacting with poor people because we are afraid of not being successful or achieving. We are frightened by the homeless because we fear the idea of being homeless ourselves. And so, we create a distance between ourselves and those who, by their mere existence, evoke the fears we have within but try to suppress or deny as a potential weakness or imperfection. It is hard to face the truth that all suppressed parts of ourselves will revolt and weaken us at some point, as individuals as well as societies.

We are all, some way or another, prisoners of our own fears. Our challenge is not only to overcome our own, but to recognise them in the other. Mandela was such a great leader exactly because he was able to recognise the fears in his enemy, their dominating position of power notwithstanding. If we can make peace with our own imperfections and shadows and accept the offer of Forgiveness and Grace for all of our lives, our thinking and acting will naturally become more inclusive and our lives richer and more fulfilling.

Author : Dr Gerhard van Rensburg