This post might sound like it’s me taking a swing at sensitive important topics (like climate change, inequality, etc.), as though they’re wrong, bad or shouldn’t be addressed. What I’m actually doing is pointing out the context we have around these things, and how that is problematic and keeps us from really creating transformation.
These kinds of issues represent “obvious shoulds”.
Obviously, we should end inequality and systemic racism. Obviously homophobia is bad, and we should support all humans to live fully-expressed lives, and to be able to create unions based in consent and love. Obviously we should be compassionate and provide support when we see homelessness and victims of abuse. Obviously climate change is a problem, and we should do something about it.
If these obvious shoulds aren’t on your list, that’s okay — I’m sure there are plenty that you do have.
Once something becomes an “obvious should”, a couple of things happen. First, we lose a lot of patience for anyone that doesn’t agree with our obvious should. If you don’t agree with me that climate change is a problem that must be tackled immediately, then you’re a greedy fatcat capitalist who’s got their head stuck in the sand.
I lose my own capacity to sit with you and really understand why you might feel the way you do. In fact, for a lot of these obvious shoulds, it goes further than that — I end up inadvertently censoring you. If you don’t agree that race theory should be taught in school, then you’re a racist and should be cancelled.
What’s going to happen next? You’re going to find covert places to share how you feel, or start undermining the attempts I make to get more race theory taught in the places I think it obviously should be taught.
On the other hand, maybe you feel the veracity of my belief that you should obviously take this thing, and so you do so. Obviously we should address inequality in the work place, and so you agree with my plan and go along with it.
But why are you doing this?
There’s not a lot of space for us to ask that question, even though it’s the most important one. As soon as someone starts to ask a question like “But why is this important?” our wounding and, at times, preciousness, around the obviousness of why something should be addressed gets us defensive, frustrated, upset and closed.
So instead of asking or answering that question, we suppress it, and instead, we along with things because it’s obvious that we should.
What’s missing is enrolment. I’m not enrolled with what I obviously should do with all of my heart. I’m engaged with it at an intellectual level.
The danger of the obvious should is that it has us bypass really getting enrolled in something, and consequently, people will do what they obviously should, only as long as they need to alleviate the guilt, shame, fear, or pain that comes from not doing what they obviously should. Once that wears off, we’re back to where we started.
Someone will change their hiring practices to bring in more people of colour, but this ends up just checking the boxes. Genuine inclusion and diversity gets missed. Instead, we’re left with artifice. A facsimile of what we’re really aiming for, because what was driving our behaviour was that we obviously should be doing this.
To shift this, we have to start by getting clear for ourselves what’s available if we actually take on what we obviously should. We have to set down our righteousness and our fury about injustice, and instead, really ask the question, “So, if this did start to shift, and we did start to do these things… what benefits, beyond the obvious, would come forward?”
What’s the benefit that will inure me *today*, if I start to shift my business to a greener approach? Not the benefit to my children generations from now, but how will things shift for me right now? How will my day be different? How will our company benefit from doing this?
If we really take on diversity in our organization, what is the real-world, tangible benefit that will really come to us?
We have to answer these questions tangibly. Responses like “everyone will be free” is fine, but in the human mind, that really only exists as a concept, and if we stop there, our level of enrolment will only ever be intellectual.
So take a look at the obvious shoulds you’re engaged with in your life. And then take on really enrolling yourself, and then others, in what is possible if we engaged with those things.