Wendy Kalman
There are many ways to see and understand

Coexistence

(Domas, courtesy of morgefile.com)
(Domas, courtesy of morgefile.com)

Coexistence. It’s a word often used in a political context, as we are all well aware. Today, though, I am thinking about it in an even broader way, and it actually touches on different topics I’ve written about in the past. I hope I can pull these different elements together in a way which makes sense and is helpful to all.

In the past, I’ve twice blogged about acknowledging we are not omni-knowledgeable. Last February, in What I know and what I don’t, I wrote about the different ways in which we tackle the fact that we don’t know everything. Four months later, in What do you know?, I spoke about how wisdom comes from learning from others and that everyone can be a teacher.

It’s a point that I’ve also made in LinkedIn articles, sometimes sneaking in a different perspective. In Thinking big – ראש גדול, while I ask that those in management welcome input from front line employees who don’t share the c-suite, I also make the point that when workers have a “small head,” a narrower view, there is lost opportunity for more to be accomplished. To some extent, I chalk it up to poor communications (and have offered advice on how to improve that), but really, the bigger issue is understanding that everyone knows something you do not and that the extent of what you know and have experienced isn’t all there is to know.

This isn’t true only in business. Regarding academia, Vox just published an excellent piece calling for intellectual humility. As more and more academic journals are finding that studies they’ve published are not as replicable as they had wanted, it calls into question both the integrity of those researching and publishing but also the confidence people have in the studies themselves. Having taken a semester on quantitative and qualitative research, I can’t pretend to know enough, but my gut told me that quantitative research’s marriage to statistical formulas without what sufficient thought about the size and qualifiers of the sample or the meaningfulness of outliers is a recipe for missing something. Qualitative research paints a different picture. Instead of trying to say, “This is true for all since it’s true for this group we looked at under controlled circumstances,” it says, “Let’s paint a picture based on the stories we’ve gathered.” But again, we must remind ourselves that these pictures, too, are limited by the perspectives and words of the storyteller-subjects, let alone those of the researcher. Like movies and books, recognition that one person’s story isn’t everyone’s is just as important as the recognition that a broad description of a limited size group isn’t either.

Vox’s article goes beyond academia, touching on politics and personal lives, and the importance of understanding the implications of being married to a view to the exclusion of all others. (Please do read it!) Different views can coexist. Doesn’t mean they’re all equal or that they’re equally true. But it does mean that you need to make room in your world for others.

The article talks about humility, about the need to remove ego from the equation. I would go further and speak to the need to address insecurities. In one early blog, Us vs. Them, I wrote about how the only way to get past preconceptions is on a personal level. We can’t displace misconceptions unless we experience something else. This is how we overcome prejudice and bias. I’ve also written (my very first blog, I read the news and my heart hurts) how this stems from insecurity. People label groups to distance themselves and then put them down to make themselves feel bigger. (I think this is part of the reason Trump is not budging on getting the Wall budgeted for and his followers are not budging on following him, even when their own pocketbooks get hurt – because to pull back would be to admit one’s own weakness.)

But can we put this all together?

  • None of us are the center of the universe. And our own universe isn’t the only one that counts.
  • We only know what we know. And there is far more knowledge out there than any of us has in our possession.
  • There is no shame in admitting you don’t know something or that you were wrong or that you are not perfect. In fact, pointing out one’s own fallibilities makes you more human and relatable. People laugh at videos of people falling or comics who make fun of others because they think to themselves, “Hey, that’s not me. I’m better than that.” Comedians who laugh at themselves offer up the same, but not at anyone else’s expense. Sometimes, we can recognize ourselves in their stories and we can laugh and that is good.
  • Everyone has a story, and more importantly, everyone’s story is just as valid as ours. This is why none of us are in a position to discount anyone’s And this is very important in the world we live in, where whites write off what people of color have to say about what they’ve experienced, where men do the same to women, Christians to Jewish and Muslim experiences, straight people to LGBTQ people, etc.

Coexistence isn’t just a bumper sticker about religion. It’s recognizing that each one of us has a story. Each narrative is just as important as ours. And there is room for each story to coexist.

It’s recognizing that studies and pronouncements based on them stem from individual stories which might have been weighted and labelled, categorized and sorted. It’s important to prune off that excess and find the story inside.

It’s recognizing that because there is an entire universe of narratives you’re not hearing, you are missing out on potential ways each could change the direction of the story, the conclusions of the study.

What do we do with this knowledge? Be more patient. Listen. Listen without judgement, without comparing to yourself or your story. Listen and ask, what is missing? Why? Then what? So what?

If we make room for more to coexist – more ideas, more people, more stories, more groups, more information – and if we don’t filter it through our own lenses, we can share a world which will make us all the more richer for it.

About the Author
Born in Brooklyn and raised on Lawn Guyland, Wendy lived in Jerusalem for over a decade submerged in Israeli culture; she has been soaked in Southern life in metro Atlanta since returning to the U.S. in 2003. Recently remarried, this Ashkenazi mom of three Mizrahi sons, 26, 23 and 19, splits her time between managing knowledge in corporate America, pursuing a dual masters in public administration and integrated global communications, blogging, relentlessly Facebooking, once-in-a-while veejaying, enjoying the arts and digging out of the post-move carton chaos of her and her husband's melded household.
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