Diversity, Empathy, and Integration: Reframing and Reclaiming a Movement Toward Healing and Wholeness

The letters DEI have become a well-known shorthand for the words diversity, equity, and inclusion, and those three words have come to represent much more than any dictionary definition would imply. In the overlapping and cross-pollinating social worlds of K-12 education, higher education, NGOs, non-profits, the corporate sector, and various levels of local and federal government, the past decade has witnessed the rapid and widespread adoption of a particular approach to talking about and addressing questions of race, gender, social inequality, and cultural diversity, and DEI has come to symbolize and refer to that diffuse yet amazingly standardized approach. The purpose of this essay is to share insights from an ongoing inquiry into what DEI has come to mean, represent, and imply, and to point toward ways that we can work together to build on the good intentions and aspirations of the DEI movement and industry while making significant changes and course-corrections to enable more positive outcomes for our society and planet.

The twists and turns of cultural diffusion and social change are not always what they seem at first glance, and are often tinged with irony, paradox, contradiction, and unexpected consequences. As our social, cultural, and technological world grows more complex and confusing, it becomes increasingly difficult to understand what is happening, due in part to the ever-increasing assortment of perspectives that permeate our media and experience. The meanings, purposes, and cumulative effects of DEI in our society are all contested and impossible to determine exactly, but if we tread carefully and keep our eyes on the prize of shared understanding, always open to new insights and shifts in perspective, we can find our way along the road that we need to travel together. As will become clear as we venture down the path of this essay, one of our primary tasks is the refinement and clarification of the language we use to communicate. And one of the proposals we will come to along the way, as evoked by the essay title, is to move toward the language and substantiation of empathy and integration, and away from language that serves to divide, confuse, or mislead.

Our more-than-human world is more than a language game, however, and we must attend not only to our words but also to the qualities and values that we embody and promote. It is with this in mind that I intend to argue for some significant changes to the DEI paradigm—its words, injunctions, assumptions, arguments, and systems of relations must all be improved to ensure they are truly in service of humanity.


This one hit the nail on the head!

Everyone the author cites (don’t skip the end notes - there is a lot of excellent information down there), from Ken Wilber, to the Nordic Metamodernists, to Gregg Henriques and many others, are sources I’ve been consulting in the past year specifically because of the bureaucratic scope creep of the current DEI paradigm and the need to reinterpret DEI in less performatively contradictory ways.

Although I am very much onboard with the diagnosis in this article, the way forward proposed here likely needs consideration from various points of views. So I’m endorsing the problem statement presented here. The proposed solutions strike me as more of a first draft than a final answer.

I’ve always loved the cry of the French Revolution (and the national motto of France): Liberte! Egalite! Fraternite!

A good piece. I particularly liked this sentence: “Defining human culture in reference to systems of justification is a meaningful move.” Yes, I agree.

But I do have a few quibbles. If this is an excerpt from a book, perhaps my quibbles have been addressed elsewhere, but if not…

*While postmodernism may have taken it to new heights, identity politics and ideology have been around almost forever. Before the Europeans arrived in the Americas, clans within native tribes were engaged in such. When the Europeans did arrive and became the New Americans, the French and the British engaged in such. The New Americans and the Indians engaged in identity politics. At the time of the Constitutional Convention, white property-owning males (often Christian) engaged in such. We’ve lived through the mistakes and confusions and errors and degradations of all of those groups, and we’ll most likely make it through the current phase of race and sex/gender identity politics.

*In reference to the statement that the “violence of the past (around slavery) was not problematized,” not by the dominant white culture (although many whites did see it as a problem long before abolition), but certainly by many if not most blacks. The “demonization of non-whites” was happening well before modernity got fully off the ground e.g. those damn savage Indians. And many whites spoke out about the demonization of native people at the time, so I’m not actually engaging in presentism.

*I also think that modernity deserves a little more critique in terms of its contribution to the current state of affairs. For all the positives that modernity ushered in, it also built or enhanced systems (e.g. economic, defense) that prioritize competition and win-lose dynamics, and essentially defined ‘success’ in such a way. That those ‘values’ have carried over into postmodernity (and DEI projects) isn’t surprising.

I sense the sincere good will and heart of the author, and this really is a piece worth reading.

Sure. Kershner is summarizing a lot of history there. To unpack it all properly would take a very extended graduate seminar or two, supported by many shelves full of books. I love the view … but the main journey seems to require focusing attention directly on the road ahead.

The quote you like about “Defining human culture in reference to systems of justification is a meaningful move" is straight from Gregg Henriques and UTOK. As luck would have it, Gregg reposted the IL Kershner essay in the UTOK forum, so I am engaging with this topic over there also. To sum up something I posted in the UTOK forum earlier today, my take is that education requires at least an implicit psychological/therapeutic model; and democracy requires education.

Integral brings all those elements to the table. An issue with Integral, however, can be a relative over-abundance of resources. For example, Integral does not just have a development theory - it tries to incorporate EVERY development theory. Somewhere between no development theory at all (a common post-modern stance) and every development theory all at once, I believe there lies a sweet spot of enough developmentalism to get the job done, but not so much as to derail practical attention from things like civic engagement and student learning.

So anyway, the practical navigation of “woke” vs “anti-woke” or DEI vs the conservative counter reaction to DEI is absolutely critical - not to put too fine a point on it - for the future of US democracy. My current thinking is that we need to get our psychological story straight first, then we need to engage in culture reinterpretation from the standpoint of healthy constructive dialogue. Also, if we can approach this task from a conceptual “less is more” standpoint, I believe that will be most effective on the level of practice.

1 Like

Actually, for purposes of this article, I don’t think so; a few sentences or paragraphs would do the job.

One of the ways I often read articles is to consider how would the people or groups being critiqued respond to this? And I feel pretty certain that someone at the green/pomo stage would deflect or point out the omissions I indicated, so if we want there to be change at that green level to healthier versions, why would we not, at least briefly, address the anticipated ‘critique of our critique’ right up front? Identity politics and identity ideological politics did not just spring up out of nowhere with postmodernity; as I said in my post, while pomo may have taken it to new heights, there is a long long history of this. Transitions between each stage of development are rife with identity and ideological politics; think of the religious and nationalist identities of the amber-mythic stage interfacing with the scientific and worldcentric identities of the orange-rational, for example.

While the author is mainly addressing present-day systems and actors and problems within DEI and solutions toward the future, and the conflicts between modernity and post-modernity, and is upholding (as he should) the evolutionary context of social justice and is upholding (as he should) the contributions of European culture to bringing about the positives of modernity (much as Steve McIntosh has done at The Developmentalist in an article about indigeneity), numerous times he does state the importance of “integrating history,” and “teasing apart and appreciating the complex ways in which the past informs and shapes the future,” and I believe history in this article was a bit too abbreviated, at least for my green sensibilities which as an Integralist, I have not lost sight of.

That’s because Integral Theory is a meta-theory, a theory of theories. I agree with you that, for purposes of public consumption at least, “less is more.” That’s the ongoing challenge, how to present Integral in a way that doesn’t overwhelm but is still meaningful. Got any ideas?

I don’t disagree that this is important intellectual work for democracy, and yet at times, particularly with woke and anti-woke language and referents being so pervasive now in popular culture, they start to look, to me anyway, like surface structures. I think democracy and the world in general would benefit from larger dosages of reminders of each person’s “ground value,” and our shared humanity, which Kershner does an excellent job of emphasizing and re-emphasizing throughout the article. It gets closer to what we might call a spiritual orientation to life and ‘other.’

I always appreciate your commentary Robert.

1 Like

Lot of high quality in your different responses … For this reason i’m going fork off response branches, because any of these branches might be worth of its own thread.

On your statement immediately above, I could not agree more. “Woke” and “Anti-woke” are looking very much like surface structures. That’s why I’m sequencing psychology-education-democracy in that order. Our current democratic institutions to me are looking more and more like a roof that needs replaced. Maybe resting on beams and bearing walls that also need replaced. New shingles or new paint job without addressing the underlying structures ain’t gonna cut it.

Lots of ideas, actually. Just finished reading Willow Dea’s Igniting Brilliance. That’s a great book for showing how Integral applies to teaching for many ages and content types. It’s also a great book for just learning Integral, because the anthology’s authors are all teachers and they know how to teach. Still … I had the gnawing feeling that I cannot apply that book directly to my practice. Why? Because the reader really needs a pretty strong background in Integral Theory to make sense of what is being presented.

This problem is not unique to Integral Theory. I find myself in a similar position vis-a-vis UTOK, several metamodernisms, complex adaptive systems theory, and a few other frameworks. Although an academic junkie like me has time to learn all these different conceptual systems and deconstruct/reconstruct them as needed for particular purposes, my students in general are just trying handle introductory academic content, not to mention Life 101. So I’m going with “less is more” for pretty much the same reason I don’t carry a 200 pound backpack up the mountain. Not that all that equipment is not very, very cool. It’s just a question of right-sizing the load.

So working off of today’s brainstorm of 1) psychology, 2) education, 3) democracy, I would say Chapter 1 of Integral for Beginners needs to start with growing up and waking up. Illustrate that with just one good developmental theory, then bring in a couple of others to highlight key points and suggest some breadth. As for that one theory to key off of, my current leaning is toward Robert Kegan. But some of the authors in the Willow Dey book use Suzanne Cook-Greuter in a similar way with good effect, so it would be an interesting discussion to have. The STAGES model is another candidate theory for this purpose. On the growing up side of this, you can use Piaget and Model of Hierarchical Complexity to add breadth to the treatment of growth in cognitive development. The waking up side of things is a bit harder to pin down. My personal feeling on this is to let the cognitive-emotional side of things (growing up) do the heavy lifting on stages of development and just emphasize that waking up is an ongoing growth process distinct from growing up. I would resist the temptation to go much into lines of development, or quadrants, or a lot of other much loved ideas in the IT world until students are clearly focused on differentiating growing up and waking up. At the big picture cultural level, “growing up” is a proxy for the development of reason and “waking up” is a proxy for growth in spirit. The tension between those two goes back thousands of years.

Until students have a clear foundation in both cognitive and spiritual development - at least agreeing in theory that a complete person needs both of these - I think the whole traditional vs modern vs postmodern analysis is headed off the rails. If an author like Kershner says it just right, very few readers are going to read it just right. The relationship between thought and spirit is deep and complex, but suffice it to say that a closing of the spirit stands at the root of many a closed mind. What fundamentalist traditionalists and fundamentalist moderns and fundamentalist postmoderns all have in common is that contraction of the spirit that also closes the mind.

Ken Wilber has spoken to this point a lot, so no claims of originality here. Different people hear different cultural code at whatever development levels they are on. So people with green code but developmental levels like Cook-Greuter Stage 3 or less are going to hate whatever an author like Kershner has to say about Green, no matter how he says it. To those, ears, it’s just an attack on their beliefs, pure and simple. Que cancel culture now.

On your deeper point about finding a message aimed at more mature Green code practitioners and coaxing them to whatever comes next, I’m very much in sympathy with that project. One way to approach this is the idea that the way beyond postmodernism is to really double down on postmodernism. The postmodernist who really deconstructs her own deconstructive process is opening the door to wider horizons.

I’m going to start my reply @robert.bunge with a quote: “Surrender isn’t a sacrifice of the known, but rather a celebration of the infinite.” (Nipun Mehta, founder of ServiceSpace, a gift-economy project). I think this is applicable to both the growing up and waking up projects that you see as foundational for an “Integral for Beginners” endeavor. One can’t grow up/develop to later stages, whether cognitive or spiritual, without some surrender to the unknown, but to see this surrender as an open-ended celebration of potential is in alignment with the value of freedom that many people (not all for sure) desire. I think it is ideas such as this quote is expressing that are needed to inspire at least individual development or development into healthier versions of their stage.

Personally, I don’t think the waking up side of things is that difficult to address to beginners, if one uses the states of consciousness model from Eastern philosophies. Everyone can relate to waking, dreaming, and deep dreamless sleep states (gross, subtle, causal, respectively; with their correlates of ego, soul, higher self/spirit respectively), and translate them to various forms of spiritual practice/experience. Witnessing can be initially introduced as self-observation, and non-dual realization can be simplified for beginners to Oneness.

In terms of growing up, I like all those stage models you mentioned, but actually, for the very very beginners, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is even simpler and Wilber and other integral leaders often use it to illustrate stages and also the even simpler stage development model applied to the morals line of development of egocentric to ethnocentric to worldcentric to kosmocentric. So giving credit where credit is due, I do think Integral tries to bring the “less is more” concept to the table. I think the videos on movie clips illustrating different stages is also a contribution to the less is more idea.

I personally believe the Quadrants are pretty important, although I think for the very very beginners, just speaking of events having the four domains of singular, collective, interior, and exterior and their tetra-arising and giving an example or two of that is really useful as it provides a practical tool to help individuals problem-solve in their own lives.

As for your brainstorm of today–psychology, education, democracy–you don’t think shadow work (cleaning up) is an important part of the psychology focus? I think cleaning up gets at some of the over-the-top emotional reactions we see and at conflict in general, with shadow work encouraging self-observation and self-responsibility.

And speaking of your brainstorm and the quadrants again, where would you place your three foci in the quadrants?

We might benefit from a three-level form of Integral Theory: for beginners, intermediates, advanced. Every time something is selected as an ‘in,’ other things are selected as ‘outs.’ Hard job, given the complexity of the theory. But then again, “surrender is not a sacrifice of the known, but rather a celebration of the infinite.”

You sound like you’re sorting it out for your own purposes. 'Tis good.

My approach tends to be all quadrants, all the time. Before I got involved with this community, I would have just used the term “holistic”. Interestingly, the chapter by Tom Murray in Igniting Brilliance is a virtual compendendium of progressive and holistic educational practices. Murray frames all that has Integral education. OK, but you can also teach like that without specifically referencing IT. Where IT really adds the most value, IMO, is on the thorny issue of “spiritual” education in public settings. For that, going AQAL and focusing on UL quadrant issues is a very useful corrective to anything smacking of scientific reductionism. So IT offers some nice cards to play, for sure. I tend to avoid anything, though, that smacks of mechanical quadrant walking and instead I favor more fluid approaches. Going back to the Brad Kershner essay that launched this thread, I thought Keshner did an amazing job incorporating IT into the larger essay flow, without distracting from his own unique voice and narrative. Moreover, he did that same thing with several other authors I favor (Henriques, Josephson Storm, L R Andersen) in a way that respected the source material and yet somehow made it all seem of one piece. That’s craftsmanship. One might also say, that’s “integral”, in the sense of integrating a lot information and making it all connect very organically.

Good idea. I’m just warming up to the idea of “waking up” as an available topic in public sector settings. Although i’ve been interested in Eastern philosophies for decades, culturally they always seemed to have their own swim lane, somewhere in a generally “alternative” space. Lately, all that is starting to feel more matter and fact and more accessible.

1 Like

Oh yeah. Really important. The challenge is how to broach the topic in a way that just does not make an even bigger mess.

Today I read this by Gregg Henriques: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/theory-knowledge/201706/maggies-story-the-many-reasons-why-not

OK, so suicide prevention involves shadow work. But the blog describes a very professional, very theoretically informed process for that. Now consider a typical teaching situation in which there are a couple dozen students, each one of whom could have that sort of emotional iceberg just under the waterline.

I’m studying Henriques and several of his frequent collaborators specifically to raise my game on these matters. (This is not contradicting anything in Integral Metatheory in the slightest - just new ways to implement it.) The general approach is that people can get caught in self-reinforcing negative cycles of addiction, depression, denial, and defense mechanisms. All that piles into the shadow. Recovery, healing, growth, and wisdom processes by contrast set up self-reinforcing virtuous cycles of opening up to reality, self, others, and the world. I’m all for the self-reinforcing virtuous cycles! But heavy shadow work with students (or anyone else) is beyond my pay grade. So I prefer to leave that to the pros. That being said, if something like that comes up, I know it when I see it and there is a set of professional best practices, interventions, and referrals that can be invoked.

Yes, some of us are at a sufficiently mature stage of consciousness that the understanding and consideration of the four quadrants (by whatever name) and their tetra-arising is a natural rather automatic process that doesn’t require any “mechanical walking” through. But I don’t believe this is true for the general population. The medical profession has been an obvious example : physicians have tended to focus on the UR and the LR quadrants in treatment, with little regard for the effects of UL and LL elements on health and illness. It’s beginning to change some, but still is not a full four quadrant approach to medical treatment in most situations.

I read the Psychology Today article you linked to. This was a good use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which is really really good for many things. However, it’s not the only tool in the box, and when reading the section about the girl having nightmares, nightly for a month, related to the rape, I couldn’t help think that an integral therapist who understood states of consciousness would have had other resources to draw upon to help her, instead of just allowing the nightmares to “finally abate on their own.” Nightmares happen in the dreaming state, which is a subtle state of consciousness. So subtle-state treatments like dreamwork or something as simple as relaxed guided imagery or guided fantasy exercises in which the girl was able to address the content of the nightmares in a way that was fear-reducing and self-empowering, could have helped with this problem most likely.

I know you’re not going to be therapizing your students :slightly_smiling_face: and respect you for learning what you can in this area and having your go-tos for interventions/referrals and such, but just wanted to point out that cognitive treatments, while fantastic for certain things, aren’t always sufficient in addressing the whole complex of issues someone may be having. As Integral says, cognition is necessary, but not sufficient–neither for growth and development, or for healing.

For more on Henriques’s system, see this: http://www.gregghenriques.com/overview-of-the-system.html

Henriques uses a lot of distinctive vocabulary in his framework, and it’s taking me awhile to wrap my head around it all. The general sense of it, though, aligns with many other recent authors in emphasizing an evolutionary dimension to the emergence of life, mind, and culture. I’ll pass on critiquing the therapeutic approaches presented in the many papers here (after having sampled quite a bit of it). Clinical therapy is not my swim lane. One idea did jump out a bit though - it was the notation of emphasizing patient strengths and nurturing patient growth based on those strengths. That aligns the approach with learning theory in general, and that’s where I can connect with it.

Revisiting the case of Maggie, IT quadrants can be helpful in unpacking what for me is is an embedded, embodied, experiential process model of how things work in schools. Namely, everything starts in Q IV (LR). Because schools are institutions in a social and legal framework. Notice the initial engagement with Maggie was in the context of a duty to report and that Maggie’s choices were to talk to the doctor or talk to the police. From there, Q II (UR) looms large, because safety of the student and safety of others must be top of mind. In the case self-reported suicidal ideation and a self-reported historical suicide attempt, interventions such as involuntary commitment, medication, and restraints are potentially available. Only after reasonable and prudent assessments are taken to exclude the immediate need for such measures does the client-therapist relationship begin. That’s mostly symbolic interaction in Q III (LL). Any therapist is certainly aware of Q I (UL). The questions is how and when does the relationship go there?

My general take on Henriques’s model (along with his many collaborators) is to build up client capabilities from the physiological baseline. A general framework is recursive meaning making. CBT addresses meaning making gone askew. The question about when and how to interpret dreams strikes me as related to the question of how robust is the client-self who is reporting the dreams. For a fragile client, dream hermeneutics might well cause more harm than good. In general, Q I therapeutics by the nature of Q I require require a self in the lead. CBT is working from the outside in, which strikes me as generally appropropriate in most institutional settings.

Some good use of the quadrants as applied to the school setting.

I don’t want to belabor this too much, the presentation of Maggie’s case, but I did want to say a few things. Most therapies (hopefully) start with attention to the “physiological baseline” and safety issues and consideration of the client’s self strength or degree of fragility. And yes of course, premature treatments, including addressing dreams, can cause more harm than good. By the time Maggies’ nightmares kicked in, nightly for a month, she had already processed the assault with her therapist, with a psychiatric nurse, relationally with her mother, and also with a classmate at the sexual assault awareness event. And as Henriques said, her conscious self had progressed a great deal (he was considering just maintenance therapy), but the subconscious was still holding the trauma.

Nightmares too can have physiological effects: sleep deprivation/difficulties, increased stress hormones, blood pressure and heart rate fluctuations. They can contribute to anxiety and depression, and affect concentration, and thus, one’s performance at work or school. According to the case study, she was indeed having several of these symptoms brought on by the nightmares.

I am not critiquing what was overall done in this case; as I’ve said, it presents as a really good use of CBT, and in the end, Maggie was dramatically improved. Still, it just stood out to me reading the case that the nightmares could have been addressed possibly in ways that would have shortened their duration or their frequency or their intensity. In fact, CBT has its own method (Image Rehearsal Technique–IRT) for treating recurrent PTSD nightmares that involve the replaying of the trauma. IRT involves recalling the nightmare initially with the therapist and giving it a new, positive ending, then rehearsing the new version before going to sleep. This has been shown in studies to reduce both the frequency and distress of the nightmares.

What I wonder and actually suspect, not necessarily in this case, but in school and institutional settings in general, is that these settings are resistant or minimally squeamish about exploration of subtle material and deeper interiors than the conscious mind–too “woo-woo” perhaps. And I get it. Still, I think it’s important to remember that other options are available. The Insight Maps of the topic “Toward an Integral Meta-Psychotherapy” are relevant here.

I’m aware we have gone far astray of the topic of this thread.

Thanks for sharing that! This was not on my radar, so it’s certainly worth a look.

On the topic of UL squeamishness in schools, I might prefer the term “prudent”. Religious, political, racial, or gender identity is very affect-laden, not to mention whatever happened in someone’s family of origin. So unless it’s literally a private therapy session, schools in general are not the best settings for exploring the most intimate dimensions of identity, including spiritual movements more profound than the social identity categories listed above.

Getting ready for the next school year, I’m starting to ponder such matters, because I intend to operate in a more holistic manner than previously. That entails a certain risk of triggering emotional landmines. The model that appeals right now is that everyone has a depth dimension in the UL, but the depth of each of us is complex, mysterious, and profoundly personal. So disclosure of that in classroom settings is a fully personal matter for each student - not something for a teacher to go fishing for. But when students choose to share - for their own reasons - the teacher’s ability to handle that smoothly is a function of the teacher’s own depth and development. In my early years as a teacher, my personal depth was more in turmoil and my handling of affect-laden matters was not as smooth as it could have been. We’ll soon find out if whatever I’ve learned over the years is adequate preparation for what’s coming next!

Based upon what I’ve seen here at the site, I’m sure you will be.

1 Like