It’s hard not to feel the new energy of springtime as the weather warms and daylight begins to extend. And after the last 12-month season of the pandemic filled with hibernation-like activities, we begin to see COVID-19 cases and deaths decline and increasing availability of vaccines – the signs of a new season – creating a sense of hope.
What I have missed most through this last season is opening my home and our offices to guests. Welcoming in friends and colleagues with hospitality – offering a seat at the table. A chance for breaking bread and conversation. For sharing and laughing and sometimes for agreeing to disagree, which is easier when you can be in proximity to one another. When we can share our cares and concerns along with our joys and hopes, we can see one another’s humanity and perhaps find a common ground regardless of our political and social views. So how do we set a place at the table for our work in philanthropy to be inclusive of all voices?
In her blog post, To Bridge Our Divisions, We Must Overcome the Zero-Sum Mindset, Wendy Feliz, founding director for the Center for Inclusion and Belonging at the American Immigration Council, contends that “We often carry the false belief that if any other group gets something (power, justice, rights, education, etc.) our group gets less of that something.” She asks, “How do we advance an abundance mindset that inspires us to strive for a nation that’s better for all… and that enables us to work through our disagreements rather than cut off the discussions?” Feliz states, “The tables where we sit to build social cohesion and mutual respect are the same ones we can use to organize for justice and vice versa.”
In The Abundance Project, author Derek Rydall outlines five abundance blind spots, the fourth of which is “the belief that we have to adapt to circumstances.” He says we should instead adopt an abundance truth that, “We must expand in the face of contraction/limitation.” He describes our evolutionary adaptive ability to protect vs. progress and to mitigate loss vs. innovate. “When conditions contract,” Rydall says, “our tendency is to shrink to fit the problem.” We go into survival mode. And while we should certainly adjust, be flexible and manage our resources, we shouldn’t limit ourselves to fit limiting conditions. He suggests that we should expand in the face of contraction and ask: How do we grow to meet the challenge?
How might we expand the table in our communities and in our work so that we can approach our challenges together and with an abundance mindset? And how can an abundance mindset transform not only our bridging social capital but also our giving?
In Delusional Altruism, Kris Putnam-Walkerly explores how philanthropists can transform giving by shedding the scarcity mindset that she says, “ fools us into believing that the less we invest in our talent, infrastructure and knowledge, the more we can help others.” She explores the limiting beliefs and fears that cause philanthropy to operate with a scarcity mindset. She then puts forth principles of transformational giving, including adopting an abundance mindset.
While I find hope in the notion that shifting our mindset can be a step in the direction on a path for seeing and moving beyond the polarized fear that permeates our civil narratives, I know that the road ahead of us will not be easy – especially as philanthropy shifts to center racial equity. Systemic racism is built upon falsities of fear and scarcity, on divisive narratives that for 400 years have sought to pit have-nots against other have-nots. What will it take to set the table for those without power and for the menu to be co-crafted so that everyone’s humanity is an ingredient that nourishes us all?
Deborah Aubert Thomas
President & CEO, Philanthropy Ohio