To Our Distinguished Visitors…
It may sound bold, audacious, even presumptuous to announce that we are developing the successor to the “Diversity” paradigm. History shows that by definition, “movements” start somewhere and run their course; paradigms inevitably mature and “shift” away from the perspectives that generated them. It’s just reality.
What has proven to be far less perishable than movements and paradigms are durable sets of concept-anchored principles that transcend shifting borders or transient economic, social and political structures.
“Although the classic concept of neutrality…is not an invention of nineteenth-century juristic thought,” wrote Jessup and Deak,i “it is undeniable that these principles of an earlier era took more definite shape and developed under the impetus given by the strong stand of the United States…” and it continues to progressively develop today. Yet neutrality remains powerfully tethered to the precepts of its origin despite time and the winds of frequent and material social and political change.
Alvin Toffler, in his book “Future Shock” (1970) pointed up a phenomenon he termed “accelerative thrust,” to describe a hyper-normal rate of change and a “death of permanence.” Decades before, Deak and Jessup similarly noted that on the international scale, “Countries great and powerful a hundred years ago have become small and weak or have disappeared altogether; others which did not exist…have come into being.” Despite centuries of accelerating global political and cultural change, U.S. Presidents from Washington to Obama applied neutrality’s fundamental and enduring principles to some of their most pressing conflict-based challenges, even as have leaders from Napoleon to Nehru, and nations through the 20th Century’s “white-water” environment, from Argentina to Zambia.
“Neutrality” itself is obviously not a paradigm, but a set of principles with buttressing laws, rules and, regulations from which obligations and rights flow. Endemic global conflict has led the nations to promulgate extensive regularities in neutrality’s form, function, and process that recur across cultures and countries.
“Culture” on the other hand, can feel like sand underfoot, changes consisting of “complex, continuing processes, rather than isolable acts or events of unitary character”, per anthropologist Julian Steward. Toffler presciently diagnosed “culture shock, prefiguring “diversity tension” as a the chaotici “effect that immersion in a strange culture has on the umprepared.” Though he recognized culture shock as a normal response to cross cultural interactions in global travel, he didn’t anticipate the ability of entire cultures to migrate between nations, and the corrolary multilevel megashocks. Steward asserts that cultures, like neutralities, can bear discernible “regularities of form, function, and process which recur cross-culturally among societies found in different cultural areas.”ii Those “areas” in our current society might be no more distant from one another than neighborhoods.
InclusiveWorks® terms the convergence “CultureNeutral®”, which suggests the durable principles of neutrality as a vehicle for expressing tangible form, function and process at the locus of culture and conflict.iii Varied cultural response to conflict in all its forms of differences, disputes,struggles and wars is regrettably one of the most ubiquitous knowledge sets of humankind. For centuries, neutrality has played its role in establishing a crucial ‘third space’ between belligerents. Prized for its role in conflict-centered relations, neutrality has real world application in politics and adjudication, religion, commerce, economics and finance, the sciences, and more.
Some eloquently and adamantly argue neutrality is largely a myth. If that is true, absent neutrality, often used interchangeably with impartiality, the foundational premise of Diversity could never have risen to escape the bounds of compliance. Can anyone exercise perfect neutrality? To be perfectly honest, humans can do nothing perfectly. Despite that, principles of neutrality have endured for centuries under severe test. In contrast, Diversity began foundering within two decades after its celebratory adoption.
Andrew Koppelman recently credited neutrality in American law as being “one of the world’s most successful legal strategies” for coping with what is arguably history’s most nettlesome type of cultural diversity.iv Nonetheless, despite the D&I profession’s endless exploration of myriad cultural conflict, tensions and differences, the field’s rare serious considerations of neutrality seem subdued, muted, perhaps not robustly understood, even being considered suspect among others.
Instead, Diversity attempts to deal gingerly and obtusely with the pointed conflict between Diversiphiles® and Diversiphobes,v though both businesses and nations tend to deal with other similarly pointed cultural conflict more directly, less gingerly.
Plainly stated, everybody has a culture or two and everyone is embroiled in a conflict or two. Few would likely reject out of hand a manageable space in which to disengage from needless conflict, at least for a time. The CultureNeutral® framework might facilitate that personally, in our families, our relationships, our employment, our communities, our citizenships.
The prospect of developing a CultureNeutral® framework seemed at once an intriguing and daunting undertaking. That remains so. But developments in the field of “Diversity” have raised the stakes and hastened the need. On the increasingly evident shift away from Diversity, a colleague wrote, “Change systems must go beyond (at least philosophically) the endless cycle of organizational work that leads oftentimes to a state of equilibrium—or a state of more harm than good. Can’t continue, can’t be sustained—doesn’t work for company, community or country.”vi
Diversity as a change system may have reached that state of equilibrium long before 2007. It was the late Dr. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr., Diversity’s undisputed thought-leader and champion, who expressed the frustration that, “The field is stuck,”vii adding insights into the nature of and reasons for the in-flight stall out.
Based on two decades of research, observation and conducting discussions with international D&I professionals, I shared Dr. Thomas, Jr.’s sentiment, and admired his objectivity. Importantly, without the groundwork laid by Civil Rights, EEO, Affirmative Action and Multicultural Diversity, we might not be having this conversation. Nevertheless, the Diversity field even now struggles to define and redefine itself, to find its way not merely forward, but up, and to regain its sense of relevance and momentum in its corporate and professional quest. There is at least a fair chance that may not happen, as the business community increasingly evidences complete satisfaction with the current and unfolding state of affairs in the Diversity industry. Diversity’s entire hope still resting in a focus on cultural differences, the foundering paradigm seems not to have developed its own Plan B.
The option to ‘double down’ on the stalled Diversity paradigm is not only open, many have already committed to it. Every other publication bearing the word “Diversity” in the title prefixes it with adjectives like Rethinking, 21st Century, Transformational or Disruptive, while others affix “version” numbers or terms like Revisited or Debated. Many are abandoning Diversity altogether, replacing it with Dignity & Respect, or Equity & Inclusion. Either way, the inherent level of difficulty in redesigning anything that has neither an extant abiding definition nor a standard form or description cannot be overstated.
Thus it is that InclusiveWorks® launches with a sense of some urgency, to engage in a process of deconstructingviii Diversity and to put forward the idea of a “shift” to a CultureNeutral® framework for addressing the intractable conflict between Diversiphiles and Diversiphobes.
CultureNeutral™ purports to be neither a grand solution nor a panacea for global peace, but a way to grab a breather in a space often unoccupied, unexplored by most people. That in turn may allow mental and emotional room for a respite and refocus, disengagement from draining, fruitless difference-based conflict. In turn, individuals and companies might then redirect energies to more pressing challenges.
We conclude by excerpting from “A Word of Advice to Young Musicians” from one of the 20th Century’s greatest instrumental musicians, the late Jaco Pastorious,ix who said, “Keep your minds open. Keep an open head about music. I grew up in Florida where there was no real music prejudice. Everybody was playing everything from Cuban to symphonic. Everything was hip…Keep listening, keep your ears open.”
That mirrors the InclusiveWorks® ask for this international dialog on a CultureNeutral® framework. Keep an open head, keep your ears open.
We recommend you start with the article, “Who Needs a CultureNeutral® Frame?” Then just dive right into the “Seven Keys….”
Copyright ©Robert D. Jones 2013 All Rights Reserved
i Deak and Jessop, 1935 Neutrality Laws, Regulations and Treaties, Vol. I
ii Julian Steward, 1955,Theory of Culture Change: The Methodology of Multilinear Evolution
iii Deak and Jessup, 1935 Neutrality Laws, Regulations and Treaties, Vol. I
iv Koppelman, Andrew, “Defending American Religious Neutrality”, Harvard University Press, 2013,
vi Amri Johnson, Novartis
viii Deconstruct, def., interpret (a text or an artwork) by the method of deconstructing; give an interpretation or explanation; to adapt or separate the elements of for use in an ironic or radically new way. (Webster)
View or review all the CultureNeutral® Keys:
© 2013 Robert D. Jones/nuClusiv LLC, All Rights Reserved
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