I feel like I should begin with a trigger warning. My presentation comes at this topic from an unusual angle. For some, this may be uncomfortable. When most people think of a presentation on diversity, the mind almost automatically turns to discussions of inclusion for so-called “minorities” like the 51% of the world’s population that identify as female and the even greater percentage of people identified as non-white and assimilating them into groups that are mostly white, mostly male, mostly able-bodied, and above-average in wealth. This very narrowly-composed group is defined as ‘the majority.’ The automatic turn silences us from talking about the elephant in the proverbial room. It leaves us to discuss mitigating outcomes rather than taking an uncomfortable look upstream to the causes of exclusion and inequality. It also silences any questions, or doubts, of what people are being assimilated into. In this presentation, I’d like to touch on one set of related norms that make presentations on diversity necessary in the first place. I’d also like to offer an alternative set of norms that many consider more ethical and compassionate.
Lately, a concept has been added to the discourse on diversity known as white fragility. It describes the visceral discomfort that some people feel when listening to other people discuss race or whiteness. A similar discomfort arises when people discuss money. Since I’ll be talking about both, I invite you to take care of yourself. If you need to step away, or close your eyes, in the next three minutes, please feel free. The slides behind me will provide quotes related to the topic and a quiet distraction you can zone in on.
We had a first hand experience of these norms on our first day together when someone asked, “How much should we charge supervisees?” I don’t know if I was the only one, but I felt a noticeable shift in the level of discomfort in the room. I’m going to toss out a tentative explanation for why. We live by few societal norms that some people prefer we not discuss. first norm is we can talk all day long about how to make more money, and even how to save a little, but we’re discouraged from saying how much we personally earn or spend. A related norm is that we are to earn as much money as we possibly can; that is, to charge the highest possible price your customer would pay. We are also taught to desire to work as little as possible. Early retirement, long vacations, long weekends, part-time schedules are all something to seek and are made possible by accumulating surplus earnings. And lastly, we, as consumers, are told to spend as much as we like, even to borrow for spending today that’ll take decades to pay back. The more we charge, the less we have to work, and the more we have to spend. This is the way of whiteness and wealth in the American economy.
At the moment of the question of how much to charge, an internal dilemma was nearly faced between our compassionate spirits and the innate desire for conformity and security. Like Brian who became teary when he mentioned giving back, our spirits want to be available to those who trust us with something precious. But our conforming selves know that to do so would mean to violate the norms white America lives by. In terms of diversity for supervisees, this matters because if we take the easy route, to conform, the profession’s future counselors will disproportionately resemble those whose ancestors have found the easiest routes to success in this country. People who look like me. But if we attempt to not-conform, we may sacrifice some our own comfort, and those whose success has been inhibited, to put it mildly, may finally be able to join us in more proportionate numbers.
Only human beings conflate work and the notion of earning income. No other creature on the planet uses money as a means of exchange. Work, shorn of money, is our effort to care for each other. While doing so, we could choose to earn only what we need and spend as little as possible knowing that earning more than is necessary stresses every consumer and spending more than is necessary stresses the livingness of the planet that sustains us. In the short term, rather than always strive for more, strive for the middle. This might mean, in some cases, lowering income. In the long term, rather than strive for millions, go for zero. None of us can reach that goal in our lifetimes, but our children and grandchildren will see the results of our efforts. In the future, if we survive long enough to see it, I’m convinced the richest people will be those who have no need for money and the weakest will be those who need soooo much more than everyone else. But to get to that day, we will need to begin to discuss, disobey, and re-create our norms, because our spirits know that something is more beautiful and more possible than this. Thank you.
This is a short presentation on ‘diversity’ made to a class of counselors training to become clinical supervisors, October 17, 2019. A special word of gratitude for Shannon Gayk who photographed the image above.