Are Your EDI Efforts Motivated By Fear or By Love?

Earlier this week, I had the honor of delivering a keynote presentation at the MLK Day Celebration in Parkland, Florida. Parkland is the community I called home during my first three years in Florida before moving to Miami where I now live. 

Watch the video to hear the speech that I delivered (mostly).

The world we live in today is unfortunately governed by news cycles rather than critical masses of honorable and energized citizens pursuing a powerful shared vision.

In the presence of greatness, pettiness disappears. In the absence of a great dream, pettiness prevails.”   - Peter Senge

There are mounds of research to support this fact; in the absence of a shared vision, fear becomes the driving force. Fear limits us in all the most harmful ways. It narrows our scope of vision. It diminishes our ability to explore alternative points of view and to entertain perspectives that are contrary to our previously held beliefs. It makes us hunker down, in self-protection mode to avoid perceived harm, embarrassment, threat, or vulnerability of any sort.

Vulnerability is an essential ingredient for growth. Think about young children. Their hearts and minds are open. They are curious, unafraid, and experimental. They lack inhibitions or shyness about how they will be judged or perceived by others. This beautiful orientation to the world is exactly what is needed to learn, to have the foundation of experiences so important for further development and meaning-making.

Now consider that for so many of us, this beautiful openness to the world is a distant thing of the past, relegated to our childhoods but not something we’ve dared experience since. What are the consequences? Can any of us, in a world that is so rapidly changing and in a global environment that continues to bring us closer together, afford to stop learning? Do we feel confident that the knowledge, understanding, and beliefs built in our early childhood are still relevant? 

For those of us advancing Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) in organizations, industry, and communities, our work requires us to anchor to love rather than fear. We help others see that fear brings us to our lowest selves, it diminishes our capacity for light and progress. Our guiding practices must include:

  1. Staying positive. Avoid blaming, shaming, dumping. I think Lily Zheng, in their book DEI Deconstructed, perfectly captures this: “People are strongly motivated to protect a positive self-image. Interventions and framings that threaten a positive-self-image and make people feel disempowered (e.g. teaching that ‘women, non-White people, and other socially marginalized underserved groups are inherently marginalized’ or ‘men, White people, and other socially advantaged groups are always at fault’) tend to trigger unexpected and undesired reactions and backlash effects.” 

  2. Exuding energy. In 2020, a lot of bold, declarative statements were made about what organizations and their leaders vowed to do to end racism, hold themselves accountable, and make systems-level changes–finally. Now it’s 2023. Sports are back in full swing; a recession is looming, and all things EDI haven’t yet changed for the better. Don’t give up. EDI takes stamina. It is not a “to do”, it’s who we are and how we do what we do, every day and forever.

  3. Pursuit of a strategic path. There are a million things to do–so focus. Pause, create a plan, identify, and follow a curated path that will allow you to make meaningful progress over time. Remember to establish small and large milestones, communicate and celebrate accomplishments along the way, and continue to iterate. We are humble practitioners, not performers willing to act without intention and honor.

Dr. King, and scholars across time, all know that vision is more powerful than fear, that love is more powerful than hate. But with a qualification—only at scale. Hate at scale will always overburden a few scattered sentiments of goodwill. Fragmented vision will always succumb to the louder exhalations of fear that divide us. Only when we—all of us and with shared energetic pursuit—commit to engaging in the absolutely human albeit childlike ability to learn without inhibition, listen across politics or prejudices, care about people and outcomes rather than positions will be breathing life in Dr. King’s dream.

In today’s world, we can be anything we want to be. I want you to think how powerful that is, and how humbling. As you consider your next social media post, your next engagement with neighbors near and far, please remember Dr. King’s words:

Keep feeling the need for being important. Keep feeling the need for being first. But I want you to be the first in love. I want you to be the first in moral excellence. I want you to be the first in generosity.

In the spirit of honoring Dr. King’s legacy, reflect and make commitments to act. Use these to begin:

  • How—in what ways—are you energetically pursuing a future that reflects our shared desire for a better world, healthier communities, and more caring relationships?
  • What can you do more of or differently? Don’t just keep reading. Instead, pause, and make a mental list. 
  • How can you bring your commitment forward in a way that encourages it to be shared—with your family, in your neighborhood, in your place of work? No, really, what can you do? What will you do?

Humbly and with great joy for all that we can become,
- DeEtta 

Learn more about our EDI in Action Series that can help you grow your organization's EDI efforts, extend the EDI conversation more broadly within your organization and establish a base of EDI knowledge and shared language across all of your employee groups.

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DeEtta Jones & Associates (DJA) guides leaders and organizations on a journey that builds capacity, strengthens innovation, and increases organizational performance by creating a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive environment.

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