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Equity is Inherent in Reciprocal Prosperity

What conditions in any social cause do you take for granted as insoluble, that with more careful listening and witnessing reveals new options?

- JM Harvey, Author Invite Change. The Lessons from 2020 The Year of No Return. Nautilus Book Award Silver Award Winner.

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That you consider something insoluble is the first clue that you may have a blank space in your way of perceiving. The belief operates as a mental blinder. Inside your head it might sound like this, “I don’t know anything about ______” or “I don’t have anything valuable to contribute to _______” or “There are others who are smarter and more capable to address _______.” Most of us as successful professionals have learned to separate what we say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to by considering our experience and relevant expertise as the litmus test for making a good decision. What we don’t pay enough attention to is our interests, passion, and ability to build relationships for collaboration and action. Nothing gets solved based on data or information alone. Solutions come through people, engaged in meaningful dialogue and caring. In order to generate equitable solutions, people must convene courageous conversations built upon the principle of reciprocal prosperity.

Equity is a structural and systemic concept, rooted in the principles of fairness and justice. The concept acknowledges that the starting point or condition for each person and group of people are different. One size never fits all. And therein lies the challenge faced by policymakers at a macro level of society and our families at a micro-level of society. Watching advertisements reveals this phenomenon as we consider what to have for dinner so our children will eat, or what automobile to purchase to match our identity and envisioned experience while driving. Making choices for a society that we experience as equitable must account for the differences and find the optimal way to fit the diverse pieces together. That’s not possible to discover without deep listening and convening spaces for all voices to be heard. One technique to use includes our imagination by including an ‘empty chair’ in every conversation so that all involved continually ask the questions, “who is not in this conversation that will care about our decision, who will be impacted by the decision, and who may have an important perspective to incorporate before we move into action?”

On a more serious note, equity is complex and requires that we each learn to perceive what is occurring in our lives through a holistic lens. We must learn to notice how the various pieces and parts of our lives, in any domain, fit together. The first fit of the pieces produces a current reality. We continually assess if the way we fit those pieces generates comfort and continue with it, or, we find our experience uncomfortable and begin to consider changing that reality in some fashion. All too often our changes have an invisible ripple effect that sometimes is positive, however, more often, because it is invisible, the effect diminishes or excludes someone. Because we live inside of a system we call our culture and personal identity, our habits and bias are firmly in place. We rarely challenge our daily habits and as a result invisibly and usually unintentionally perpetuate inequity. We require opportunities for deliberate disruption in order to consider changing our habits and move toward a new way of relating to our lives.

One mindset shift that supports the deliberate disruption is to move from dualistic win-lose thinking to win-learn thinking. When is the last time you considered what motivates you to reflect and analyze your experience so you can deliberately disrupt your habits and bias? Perhaps something really disappointing or frustrating occurred. In the moment, you are looking to blame someone for the consequences you are suffering from what you think is their actions that impacted you. Yet, isn’t true that you are some part, cause or agent of the experience? When you pause to step back and look at a circumstance more holistically you start to perceive more pieces of the puzzle, some left out of the picture are the blank spaces that were not considered before. Leaders often experience disappointment with results delivered by their team members. Upon reflection, it becomes painfully obvious that the leader’s request was incomplete, especially in terms of what defines a successful and mutually satisfying outcome. The team members promised to deliver on the request with incomplete understanding. A result occurred for sure and both the leader and the team are frustrated. How does this breakdown occur? Assumptions, the hundreds of assumptions you make daily in the name of speed and maximum effort. When your mindset is using those assumptions to win and not lose versus to win and learn, the result is a blame-game experience. A mindset based on the idea of win-learn creates the foundation for a reciprocal relationship. A leader and all team members place full attention on alignment with the mutual success that accesses the best strengths of all involved. In a family, parents and children engage in open dialogue that prioritizes hearing all points of view over speed to decide. Policymakers prioritize collecting community input at every stage of the decision process to ensure an inclusive solution emerges.

One more idea to explore now is the confused connotation in our current time for the word prosperity. As my good friend Shariff Abdulla says, we are centering society on greed and not love. The Latin root for the word is prosperare meaning to cause to succeed and render happy. Being financially prosperous is not the enemy; the mindset of win-lose applied to financial decisions is what perpetuates inequity. Fundamentally the system of capitalism suffers under the weight of an individualistic win-lose mindset rather than a holistic, win-learn approach. To create a world for all means we must learn to understand the different starting points and different needs for an equitable allocation of resources so that all people experience a flourishing existence. This is the challenge of our time that is best served by inviting change.

Janet M. Harvey, MCC

Experienced with individuals at the Board of Directors, “C” Chair, Executive and Senior Management levels, Janet assists executives in adopting effective habits of perception and behavior to lead and accelerate corporate strategies. Typical engagements address executive development in the following areas: articulate and inspire through clarity of vision, enable respectful challenge, debate and catalyze synergy for strategic business choices, risk/reward critical thinking about investments and shareholder value, plan leader succession and architect sustainable cultural/strategic change.
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