Equality -The Second Compnent of the Thinking Environment
The second component of a thinking environment is the component of equality.
One of the things that I love about the components -and I've talked about this already - is that they belong together. Together, they form this system of human interaction.
You could argue that the component of attention, the first component, which I've already talked about, cannot exist without this second component, because if I'm going to promise to listen to you, and to be genuinely interested in your thinking, and to not interrupt you, one of the things that I'm going to need to know in order to sustain that quality of attention, is that you - at some point - are also going to be interested in my thinking. In other words, we matter equally, and that my thinking matters as much as yours does.
In exchange for listening to you, and being interested in you, and not interrupting your thinking, you at some point are going to do the same for me.
When we work in groups in a thinking environment, one of the things that we regularly practice is something called a "round". It begins with whoever feels ready to start, and then continues so that each person in the group gets to take a turn to say what they think about whatever question is on the table, and each person gets listened to with that same quality of attention, that same palpable interest, that same respect. In this way, each of us ends up feeling as though our thinking matters as much as the person that came before us and the person that comes after us in the round...because it does.
Another one of the things that I hear regularly from the people that I work with in organizations is how many people attend meetings, week in and week out, and their voice never gets heard in that meeting. They never get given a turn. That always amazes me!
How can we invite someone to attend a meeting, and then not ask them what they think?
What kind of message does that send to that person about whether they're thinking matters or not?
The other thing about the component of equality is keeping agreements and boundaries. This is a fascinating aspect of this component because many a time we don't keep agreements and boundaries with each other, because we've never made the agreement explicit in the first place. We make assumptions instead. Assumptions are something that I'm going to be exploring later on when I talk about the ninth component of a thinking environment, which is incisive questions.
So instead of communicating clearly to each other, what it is that we expect from each other, what the agreements are, what the boundaries are, we don't do that. As a result, we often end up only realizing what our expectations are when we feel let down and disappointed. It's at that point that we feel unequal, that somebody else put their attention on something other than us when we were expecting it to be on us, when we were hoping it would be on us.
So keeping agreements and boundaries - making the agreements explicit in the first place, and then keeping them - is one of the ways in which we express this beautiful component of equality.
Another thing that I often talk to my clients about with regards to equality, is that we need to face reality with regards to this.
Equality doesn't actually exist in nature, and in the affairs of human beings. What's really present is hierarchy and hierarchical power and differences. When it comes to hierarchical power, and differentials of power, the person that feels that power differential the mostly is the person who experiences having the least power.
So equality is something that we have to create. We have to consciously focus on it. We have to say to people in the way in which we treat them, in the way in which we be with them: "You matter, your thinking matters. And I will make sure that you get a turn to say what you think, and when you take your term, I will listen to you - regardless of who you are in the hierarchy of things - with the same quality of attention as I listened to everyone else."
And that's the component of equality