My sweet cat is slowly fading. Her kidneys are failing, and she has almost entirely stopped eating. She’s been part of my being for 16 years and now I am watching as she slowly fades away.
Last night on Twitter, my friend Christine Egger wondered aloud, “If you hadn’t been taught you had dominion, how would you treat other species? If we hadn’t been taught that, would we be less likely to think we had dominion over other people? Their lives, their choices? What does “dominion over others” mean to you? How do you play it out? I think there’d be a huge part of me that would relax and celebrate more, if I could let that dominion stuff go…”
Which brings me to the learning community meeting we attended today – a lively session on Cultural Competency with a group of perhaps 30 individuals who consult to community benefit organizations. The facilitators/teachers did a great job of explaining cultural competency (or as they suggested, cultural “humility”). As we broke into 2’s and 4’s to discuss the issue, though, I was plagued by questions.
Why do we spend whole workshops and meetings reminding ourselves to listen, be present and respectful, appreciative of the hardships and joys and the histories of the people with whom we are working – why do we only consider those questions when we are relating to people whose ethnicity or race or gender or age is different from our own? Why do we only consider eliciting and building upon the wisdom of those who are perceived to be “different?”
Aren’t these approaches just as relevant with people of my own ethnic background? My race? My gender? My sexual orientation? Shouldn’t I be looking to elicit and build upon their wisdom as well?
And as consultants, why are we not asking how we can listen, be present, open, respectful, appreciative of the hardships and joys of our consulting clients? Why is it ok for consultants to assume they are smarter than the organizations who hire them, rather than helping to elicit the clients’ own wisdom, to guide them to their own success?
As spouses, as parents – is this not the way we want to be in our lives? Are the lessons of cultural competency not merely the lessons of living joyfully with others, period?
And I guess today, I am a bit more sensitive than I might otherwise be. Because today it is my cat who is trying desperately to share her being with me. It is my job to listen to her, to appreciate her joys and her hardships. It is my job to be present, open to where she is within her own tiny being right now. As she fades slowly, it is my job to elicit her wisdom, to help guide her to what will be best for her.
That is what we do when we love one another.
Which brings me back to my conversation with my friend Christine last night on Twitter. I had suggested to Christine that I prefer a spirit of compassion rather than dominion. That “dominion” and “dominant” appear to share a linguistic root, and that I consider compassion to be more “alongside each other” than “one above the other.”
“Does compassion still have room for hierarchy?” Christine wondered. And then she answered her own question: “Perhaps only love doesn’t.”
The greatest sages of all time, from Jesus to the Buddha to modern day rabbis, teachers and bodhisattvas – they all instruct us to love one another. Tonight I am taking that lesson from the tiny being who has slept curled up beside me for the past 16 years.
We make distinctions and create walls at our peril – between cultures, between consultants and clients, between parents and children, between us humans and the rest of our animal brethren.
“Hate never dispelled hate; only love dispells hate.” That is what the Buddha told us thousands of years ago. “Love one another” Jesus told us shortly thereafter.
And all this time later, regardless of the group or the individuals each of us encounters in our lives, I cannot think of a circumstance where that is not the very best advice we can give or receive.
Photo is Max about 6 months ago