When it comes to deliberating big issues, which way do you lean?

Balancing Truth and Reality

Several years ago, I facilitated a diversity retreat where forty people spent two days laughing, crying and hashing out issues that often arise when we talk about race. At the closing circle, we felt exhausted, but transformed. Then, Carolyn, the Executive Director of the sponsoring organization, said in her closing remarks, “From now on, I reject my white identity and claim myself as a person of color. After all, I am a person and white is a color. So I stand here in solidarity, as a person of color, with my fellow brothers and sisters.”

Though technically true that she is a person and white is a color, the reality is that Carolyn is not a Person of Color, and she was wrong to claim that affiliation, especially in that situation.

In considering issues of race, diversity and nationality, a fine balance exists between truth and reality. I recently discussed this topic with Dr. Price Cobbs, a respected psychiatrist, speaker and author of the seminal 1978 book, “Black Rage.” Now 85 and having spent several decades doing diversity work, Dr. Cobbs offered this reflection: “You’ve got to hold both truth and reality in balance,” he said as he presented his hands, palms up. “Folks who lean too far towards truth (like Carolyn did) intellectualize their way into denial and often trivialize the harm and pain that oppression causes.” 
For example, scientists will tell us that there is only one race – the human race – leading truth-leaners to say things like “Black, white, green, blue – color doesn’t matter because deep down we’re all the same,” or “Can’t we just get beyond these categories and just be ourselves?”

“On the other hand,” Dr. Cobbs continued, “folks who lean too far toward reality are consumed with anger, rage and hate. They will righteously speak on behalf of all of their people, and may act blindly.”

The reality is that social constructs such as race, class, nationality and even religion exist to sort and divide us into agents and targets, as I discussed in a recent missive about Power, Rank and Status

Psychologist Leticia Nieto writes, “the truth is that human beings do not fit into dualistic categories; we are much too complex. The reality is that our lives are profoundly affected by (the artificial division of) rank and status.”

Take a moment and put out one hand, palm up, and feel the weight of “truth.” Put out the other hand and hold the weight of “reality.” Feel the difference between each hand.  What does each one weigh? Which one is heavier in your hands right now?

I was confronted with this paradox a few days ago as I picked up my lunch.  I passed by a homeless man and decided that I would buy an additional burrito to share with him. As I walked out of the restaurant with my two burritos in hand, I passed by a homeless vet and decided to give the burrito to him. I went to the man that I had originally intended to give the burrito to and have him five dollars. Two blocks later, I passed by a homeless couple and their dog. I gave them ten dollars. Then I turned the corner and passed by a homeless youth. I had no money left so I gave him my burrito.

The truth is homelessness exists and I want to do something about it. The reality is each person has a story that will move my heart and my resources are limited.  How do I reconcile truth and reality?

On a more global scale, as I follow the unfolding news about the thousands
 of migrant children at our borders. I weigh the truth (we have defined borders and policies to protect our country’s interests) and the reality (the human face and harrowing story of each of these young people). I notice how tempting it is to go with what I’d prefer, the heavier hand, yet I know that true leadership asks me to find the right balance between truth and reality.

Whether deliberating global issues or something more personal, take the time to hold your hands up and feel the weight of both sides. Note what the truth and reality might offer. Then, allow your heart to guide you in taking the steps in the right direction.


Elemental Partners cultivates healthy and prosperous organizations through clarity of purpose, alignment of principles, and integration of systems.

For more information, visit us at www.elementalpartners.net or email us at kevin@elementalpartners.net



Kevin will be facilitating a staff retreat for ZeroDivide on August 20-21 in Novato, CA.

Kevin will be facilitating the Asian Youth Prevention Services Collaborative Retreat on August 28 in San Francisco, CA.

Kevin will be co-facilitating a series of Welcome Table community meetings with the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation on September 3-6 in New Orleans, LA.
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