Friday, March 1, 2013

Allophilia "101"...beyond tolerance to deep respect

According to Prof. Pittinsky’s research, five components provide a measure of allophillia: having positive feelings toward members of the other group (affection); feeling comfortable and at ease with members of the other group (comfort); believing there is a close connection with members of the other group (kinship); seeking interactions with members of the other group (engagement); and finally, feeling impressed and inspired by members of the other group (enthusiasm). (From "Allophilia: Beyond tolerance lies true respect" by Sheema Khan, Globe and Mail, February 28, 2013, below)
Deep respect, for Professor Pittinsky includes affection, comfort, kinship, engagement and enthusiasm... and clearly, the complexity and depth of these experiences trump the kind of glib marketing of slogans, of affirmative action programs and of tokenisms especially those currently being practiced by too many politicians, for their own narrow ambitions.
Over against "allophilia" we have to put "provincialisms" the kind of cultural traditions that keep us from fully engaging with others who are different. Clinging to those traits of parochial provincialisms, we see communities resisting the faces and traditions of different cultures, and not least among the most advanced.
Start with the U.S. provincialism of naming all newcomers "aliens" as if they came from a different planet. Move to another provincialism of "thinking America is number ONE!" in world power, in world military, in world entertainment, in world marketing and sales, and in world financial institutions. It is this narrow "self-image" that both attracts millions to American soil, and deflates much of American potential to achieve what Pittinsky calls "allophilia". Another provincialism known around the world is "Canadian smugness" about our capacity to achieve what was once dubbed multiculturalism along with our "strong financial sector"...once again both attractive magnets for aspiring immigrants and 'boasting badges' for Canadians when visiting other countries. However, while our former Bank of Canada Governor, Mark Carney, begins his tenure as Governor of the Bank of England in June, demonstrating the 'mother country's' honouring one of its "colonials" (along with Moira Green, former head of Canada Post who now heads the postal service in the United Kingdom),
Canadians have a very long way to go to begin to achieve anything resembling allophilia.
In fact, some of the most "enclosed" and impenetrable institutions in the Canadian landscape are Canadian religious and ecclesial institutions. And some of the deepest fears of "the other" come from a rigid apprehension of the faith dogma on which a family is raised, preserved in part by a claim to be the "right" religion.
Imperialism has many faces, including the military, the church, the corporation and the education establishment at the core of which are many more managers than visionary leaders who are both capable and willing to grasp the full impact of Pittinsky's "allophilia".
Within the academic community, for example, there are 'insiders' and 'outsiders' as there clearly are in the political arena. In schools there is clear evidence that those born in a community have a much greater chance of achieving executive positions in the school establishment than those born elsewhere, even from the next community.
Canadians have not begun to achieve allophilia with those from the next town or village, never mind the lands on the other side of the globe.
Interests bring people together to pursue common objectives...and through interests, one encounters perspectives that help to enhance and to shape previously long-held views. And that happens at the pace of a snail making its way from one side of the continent to the other. At the same time, technology, both in communication and in transportation is bringing us face to face with people and pain of many different cultures, and families and individual lives.
The American "melting pot" serves the market, blending everyone to a job, an income, a home in the suburbs and a retirement plan. The Canadian tradition of a "mosaic" in which each ethnicity kepts its own uniqueness, while sharing a common landscape with other 'ceramic tiles' keeps the tiles separated by the grout of the piece.
We have not found a suitable containment metaphor for allophilia, and given the clinical and cold-sounding nature of the word, it is not likely to become integrated into street-smart-vernacular any time soon.
However, when we are able to engage our professional practitioners in conversations about their lives and their histories, their aspirations and their inspirations, we can at least begin to unpack our own apprehensions, and perhaps even begin to thaw our puritan, reserved and extremely cautious mask to open to sharing our own aspirations, inspirations and find some common ground and appreciation for each other. And when we find some acceptance, some empathy, some compassion and some warmth from the other, even the Canadian frozenness might experience a warming that could help us to adopt to the exigencies of modern stimuli and shared experiences.
Allophilia is not going to happen through books and lectures and blogs alone...but rather through a growing of many tiny rivulets of shared experiences into a larger stream of shared experiences into a wider ocean of similar experiences, meeting a similar ocean current from another continent....a dream to be shared, while it is also a vision to be nurtured, and a picture to be painted, first 'by number' and then by full release of the human imagination and courage.
Allophilia: Beyond tolerance lies true respect
By Sheema Khan, Globe and Mail, Febuary 28, 2013
Because simple tolerance, mere tolerance, is not enough. We need genuine and deep respect for each and every human being notwithstanding their thoughts, their values, their beliefs, their origins.

These words, spoken by Justin Trudeau during a moving eulogy for his late father, resonated deeply with Canadians, for they spoke to our shared humanity. Given recent flashpoints of aboriginal self-assertion, linguistic tensions in Quebec and the growing income divide, it is a message worth revisiting.
Todd L. Pittinsky of Stony Brook University, currently a senior lecturer at Harvard, and author of Us Plus Them, has studied the dual concepts of recognizing and embracing differences. He has coined the term “allophilia” to describe positive intergroup dynamics that supersede tolerance.

He believes that current anti-racism/diversity training programs do not tap in to the latent potential of individuals to develop strong bonds with those outside their own “group.” These programs are often ambivalent about differences. He recalls attending a corporate diversity training session in which the first slide, “Diversity Is Our Strength,” was contradicted by a later slide, “We Are All the Same.” They also ignore scientific research about innate allophilic characteristics, and the strong interpersonal cohesion that develops from them.
According to Prof. Pittinsky’s research, five components provide a measure of allophillia: having positive feelings toward members of the other group (affection); feeling comfortable and at ease with members of the other group (comfort); believing there is a close connection with members of the other group (kinship); seeking interactions with members of the other group (engagement); and finally, feeling impressed and inspired by members of the other group (enthusiasm).
He has seen allophilic initiatives blossom at the grassroots. For example, about 10 years ago, Maine received an influx of Somali immigrants. “They were about as ‘other’ as possible in one of the ‘whitest states in America,’” he remarked. Then, members of a local adult-learning centre organized potluck dinners for American and Somali families, fostering cross-cultural friendships and bonds. They tried each other’s dishes and Somalis taught Americans to tie head scarves and paint henna tattoos. “The two groups were still very different,” he observes, “but they enjoyed their differences.”
Governments are starting to listen to Prof. Pittinsky’s approach. Minnesota recently sponsored a state-wide celebration for Martin Luther King Jr. Day with the focus on “moving beyond tolerance to allophilia.”
There are economic ramifications, too. “The desperate search for economic growth will put added pressure on organizations, public and private, to finally get serious about diversity in the workplace as an engine of innovation – not just as window-dressing,” says Prof. Pittinsky, adding, “That can work, but not without allophilia.”
Religious differences, within and between countries, may become a source of tension. However, Prof. Pittinsky believes that if North American religious leaders promote allophilia, rather than tolerance, deep social bonds can develop.
The view of religion as a source of social cohesiveness may seem counterintuitive. Yet, according to current research, attachment and identification with one’s own group enhances positive disposition toward others. Problems occur when leaders encourage an inward focus and outward animosity at the expense of others.
Is this a problem in Canada?
According to the 2011 Focus Canada survey by the Environics Institute, 79 per cent of Canadians profess a belief in God or “universal spirit.” More importantly, it found that “religion does not appear to be a source of division within Canadian society,” while the majority take pride in our multicultural policy.
The Toronto-based Inspirit Foundation seems to have tapped in to both the spiritual and allophilic potential of Canadians by promoting initiatives related to pluralism among young Canadians of different spiritual, religious and secular backgrounds. These include an innovative project in Winnipeg, where aboriginal youth will share with newcomer youth indigenous history, spirituality and strategies that foster integration and respect for diversity
According to Inspirit president and CEO Andrea Nemtin, the goal of supporting such projects is to “help the leaders of tomorrow build a more inclusive and pluralist society; a society where we actively engage with each other’s differences and where all these differences, which include our ethnicity, culture and beliefs, are celebrated.”

Let’s apply these deep-seated principles toward addressing tensions present within our society today.
sheema.khan@globeandmail.com





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