A big-picture, co-intelligent vision of diversity and privilege (Part 2)

In this second post I share two more articles (in addition to the one featured last week) that have helped me understand co-intelligent approaches to issues of privilege and justice. These two offer (1) guidance for undergoing one’s own revelations of privilege in compassionate ways and (2) insights into dynamics that sustain dominant and non-dominant cultures. All three essays provide insights useful for transforming domination and privilege into justice and the equitable partnerships we urgently need to navigate the rising rapids of change.

For several years I have been increasingly challenged, curious and evolving in my journey regarding equity, justice, and privilege. Recently I’ve read three articles that together offer a perspective that I experience as a watershed in this exploration.

The first one offers a remarkably co-intelligent perspective on diversity, privilege and equity that I shared last week. It and the next one (below) highlight how privilege-derived power can be used to change systems of marginalization and oppression. This requires privileged people to awaken from the presumption and unconsciousness that usually accompany privilege, so they can CHOOSE to use their power in such life-affirming ways.

The second article in this series (below) enables greater understanding by – and greater empathy for – people seriously working to process the privilege in and around them. It is grounded in what it feels like to do healthy, challenging work on privilege.

The third article (also below) articulates the dynamics, attitudes and practices which dominator cultures use to preserve their domination. It also highlights dynamics, attitudes and practices which non-dominator cultures – both existing and aspiring – use to break out of the domination paradigm into peerness, compassion and co-creative action. With the help of this essay’s analysis, we can see these different forms of relationship and power at work all around us.


I appreciate how the first essay opens us up to a richer landscape of human diversity than we usually think about. It notes that ANY kind of differences can be used to generate privilege and problematic power dynamics.

Taking off from that insight, I proposed last week that helpful understandings from all three of these articles could apply to the ways we (a) privilege our species over other life forms and (b) privilege those of us who live today over those who may or may not be able to live two hundred years from now.

It is extremely hard to notice these particular privileges and to SEE them in terms of privilege and injustice demanding at least as much attention and remediation as the increasingly stark privileges and injustices related to race, gender, ability, sexual orientation, class and other differences that impact people’s well-being so intensely now and historically. The injustices in (a) and (b) above profoundly impact the well-being and even existence of nonhuman lives and future generations.

So I repeat my invitation to justice-centered activists to compare these critically hidden privilege dynamics with the dynamics and impacts of more familiar forms of privilege and to explore the implications for how we include – or don’t include – our anthropocentric and current-living privilege in our overall sense of intersectional privilege and oppression. Inspired by these three articles, I also raise the challenge of using our species and generational privilege to catalyze a just and regenerative culture for all time.

I believe environmental and justice movements, grounded in equity and sustainability, can expand into a shared call for the dignity, defense and liberation of ALL diverse sentient beings living now and far into the future. I see this as an opening into a deep form eco-social awakening and shift.


By Miki Kashtan


When I talk of privilege, I am referring to forms of access to resources that result from legal or social norms having to do with membership in a group, independently of any particular action, inaction, or even awareness on the part of the people who have that access of the existence of the disparity, the potential benefits to them, or the costs to others….

Although there are forms of privilege that can be acquired (wealth and education are key examples), most of us acquire most of the privilege that we have before we are even born. Moreover, we don’t have much choice about whether or not to have the privilege. If I were to come from a super wealthy family, for example, I could conceivably give away my entire fortune. That wouldn’t do away with the way that the privilege I was born into affects who I am. I would be way more likely, still, than someone who grew up in poverty, to have levels of education and manners of behavior, thought, and attitudes that are likely to land me a decent job or the capacity to create a successful business which, once again, would put me in a position of greater material wealth than others….

We cannot run away from having privilege once we have it. The only choice I believe we have is how we engage with the privilege that we have. I have so far identified four negative ways of engaging with privilege, and four positive ways of engaging with privilege….

[Her four negative ways are Denial/Invisibility, Guilt/Shame, Defensiveness, and Entitlement. Her four positive ways are Owning the privilege, Learning about privilege, Opening to receive feedback, and Stewarding privilege for the benefit of all – all of which are more fully described in the article. Then, under the topic “Necessary and Unnecessary Discomfort”, she says…]

The willingness to experience discomfort is essential for shifting from the negative to the positive ways of engaging with privilege. The positive path doesn’t eliminate discomfort. Indeed, I don’t know any way in which any of us in a position of privilege can wake up to it without experiencing discomfort. The question for me is not whether or not there will be discomfort; only what kind of discomfort….

The unnecessary discomfort stems from making a systemic issue appear to be an individual failing. When the word privilege is either used or heard as a statement about the moral character of the person with the privilege, it tends to bring about shame and defensiveness, both of which interfere with learning.

Given that many of us want to make the reality of systems of privilege known, I find it important to remind myself that we become more effective the less shaming and the more fierce tenderness we can bring to the topic. Then we can find ways of supporting all of us in staying present as we look at the untold suffering that exists in the world because of massive differences in power, so that we can truly come together and create change.

There are no guarantees, because anything that anyone says, no matter how skillful, can still be filtered through the experiences of the listener into something that is far from the original intention. My hope is that we can find a way to do this collective awakening with only the necessary and unavoidable discomfort, and not more.

Patterns of Dominant & Non-Dominant Cultures

Finally, for another fascinating perspective on mainstream/marginalizing dynamics, explore the behavioral and attitudinal patterns that show up in “dominant cultures” produced by excessive social privilege and power – i.e., that can emerge from the dynamics described in the above articles – and the contrasting patterns that characterize non-dominant cultures. I found it intriguing to realize how many of the “Non-Dominator Culture” characteristics are currently seen as typical of “good group process” and “partnership cultures” – usually without acknowledging how much they have been derived from or inspired by Indigenous and other cultures that have historically (and currently) suffered domination and even faced genocide and cultural extinction. I see this paper as one of the emerging efforts to highlight that fact while providing insights, motivations and tools to turn dominator cultures around towards partnership and cooperation. It is a treasure for all process-oriented people, including those of us who are just sick of meetings and conversations where domination and marginalization are the rule rather than the exception. This analysis offers a very good taste of the alternatives.


Tom Atlee, The Co-Intelligence Institute, POB 493, Eugene, OR 97440

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