“The World’s Turned Upside Down” is not just a memorable song from the hit musical “Hamilton,” but rather the general consensus of nearly all who have been paying attention to national and global goings-on the past two years. “There’s a lot going right now” is, quite easily, the understatement of the century. From a global pandemic and political discord to tension in racial, gender, and socioeconomic arenas, we have hit the motherlode of emotional trauma.
The consequence is that, like a rope stretched too fine, we are all ready to break. We’re depleted. Tough conversations are difficult, if not impossible, to have because the distrust for the ‘other’ is so high. Indeed, new research from Pew Research Center shows Americans believe we cannot even agree on basic facts. Among 17 countries examined by Pew, American society is among the most divided.
Unfortunately, even as people prioritize and look to resolve these conflicts, despite best intentions their approach may be prolonging the problem.
What solutions will remedy what ails us? How can we rejuvenate our trust in each other, and our conversations?
My advice is not just rooted in a personal stance of eternal optimism, but in the work that I do and the message I take to audiences nationwide, ranging from college campuses to HR professionals. The philosophy and methodology I use to bring about radical transformation is called Inversity™.
Before we can transform, though, we must take a deep breath, collect ourselves, and not dare to let any of the toxic external forces at play usurp our energy and sanity. There is always hope. While divides will exist temporarily; they do not have to leave permanent discord in their wake.
The next thing to do is look for and focus on problem-solving. Regurgitating and lamenting all that is wrong in the world is cathartic, but reframing our position from victim of circumstance to one of empowered participant is an important ingredient to developing the lasting salve we all need.
Another essential ingredient is not only to bring forth our commonalities, but also to question how we are approaching these challenges in the first place.
The impetus for Inversity is multifold. But primarily it is because the word diversity, for all its modern well-meaning usage, is rooted in division. Specifically, diversity has its root in the Latin verb diverte, which gives us the English prefix of “di” and means “turn aside” or “turn away.” Hence, we get common words like divorce and divide. Yet somehow society has been taught to adopt the word diversity as a celebration of differences when any conscious observer can see that this approach infers a “turning away” rather than a coming together.
In this respect, I hope my program is a remedy. I believe it shifts the narrative from focusing on what separates and divides us to instead give homage to what we have in common, while also recognizing our different experiences and what makes us unique. This philosophy asks how we can be truly inclusive of one another, and most critically and powerfully, how we can be introspective. It asks a person to first recognize their own value, agency, and worth so that, eventually, they can then recognize the value, agency, and worth of another.
My mission is to intentionally set the stage for change by creating brave (not safe) spaces that allow us to recognize both our commonality and our uniqueness. That is true inclusion. We must not only welcome a diverse array of people, but a diverse array of thoughts, experiences, and ideas. We must hold steadfast to the paradigm of honoring all that each individual, with the vast breadth of our identities and characteristics, brings to the table.
Honoring another person’s perspective — recognizing that their input is essential to solving challenging problems — while advocating for our own uniquely-held perspective is how we build trust. It is how fortify ourselves so we can we have the tough conversations that solve problems.
The basic principle with which I approach transformation revolves around getting people to C.A.R.E. C.A.R.E means Conscious empathy, Active listening, Responsible reactions, and Environmental awareness. All of these components, when taught thoughtfully and with noble compassion, resonate deeply with those who desperately want to put an end to hate, vitriol, and the seemingly unbridled division of our current reality.
Inversity may be a new word, but it is not a new concept. In fact, it is a continuation of the philosophy that motivated great leaders from our past like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglass, Mahatma Ghandi, and Mother Teresa. Through channeling the wisdom of leaders who helped us overcome the struggles and injustices of the past, we can equip generations to confront our current divisions and challenges long into the future.
This viewpoint is part of an ongoing series, Driving Discovery. In this series we amplify the voices of a diverse group of scholars, nonprofit leaders, and advocates who offer unique perspectives on how openness drives human progress.
Karith Foster is founder of F.R.A.M.E., a 501(c)(3) organization, and CEO of Inversity Solutions, LLC. As a professional speaker, author, and diversity engagement specialist, for nearly two decades Foster has taken her passion for entertaining and critical thinking nationwide — from the airwaves to universities to corporations – creating a seismic shift in mindsets and revolutionizing the way we address issues of diversity, leadership, and self-care.