Diversity: From tolerating to understanding…

I thought I’d write about what I’ve been reading and thinking about this week. I hope someone finds this helpful!

Contrary to popular belief, I am persuaded that learning something new has more to do with ‘will’ and less with ‘intellect’. This is probably why some things that are so blatantly obvious to one person can’t be seen or understood by another.

According to Wittgenstein (Wittgenstein et al., 1980):

What makes a subject hard to understand – if its something significant and important – is not that before you can understand it you need to be specially trained in abstruse matters, but the contrast between understanding the subject and what most people want to see. Because of this the very things which are most obvious may become the hardest of all to understand. What has to be overcome is a difficulty having to do with the will, rather than with the intellect”.

This made me wonder about the times I found it hard learn or to understand someone, and to ask myself whether this was due to my lack of will to see things differently. Perhaps more importantly, how many times I have judged others unfairly because of my failure to understand their logic system.

Organisationally, this insight has implications for how we do diversity – the difference between tolerance and celebrating diversity. The former is about co-existing by ‘agreeing to disagree’ or adopting a ‘live and let live’ attitude. In my view, change from this is probably just skin deep. Real understanding comes from the will to temporarily suspend our preconceived ideas. If we don’t do this, the other will always fall short of our preconceived idealisations.

I think this is probably what Jesus meant in Matthew 13:13:

“This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand”.

In relation to the social phenomena of radicalisation, my sense is that co-constructed solutions that stem from trying to understand (made really difficult by unspeakable atrocities) will probably be more fruitful in the long run, rather than instinctive actions to eradicate the difference we find abhorrent, based on our own worldview.

Learning about the other is less about aggregating knowledge about them… and more a performative process, ie, it happens in the course of our practical involvement with others around us (Shotter, 2014).


SHOTTER, J. 2014. Methods for Practitioners in Inquring into “the stuff” of Everyday Life and its Continuous Co-Emergent Development. In: G;, S. & CHARD, A. (eds.) Systemic Inquiry: Innovations in Reflective Practice Research. UK: Everything is Connected Press.

WITTGENSTEIN, L., WRIGHT, G. H. V. & NYMAN, H. 1980. Culture and value, Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

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