The Wholeness Principle and Stories of Diversity and Inclusion: A Reflexive Approach

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By: Ilene Wasserman

All eyes were glued on the stage.  John, a self-avowed reformed neo-Nazi sat with the director and producer of the movie that told his story, ready and available for questions.  The questions and comments came one by one.  “How did you make the decision to leave the movement?”  “How wonderful you are to risk your life to tell your story!” The conversation that followed the movie was both inspiring and riveting.  There was time for one more question.

 “My entire family was murdered in the holocaust by the Nazis.  When you think back to when you were beating people up and murdering them in the street, can you tell me, where was your humanity?”

Pause “First, I want to say how sorry I am for your loss.  I can’t imagine the pain that you live with having lost your entire family.  To answer your question, I don’t know where my humanity was – if it was even there.”


For those who are committed to “live” the principles and philosophy of Appreciative Inquiry, this exchange might seem like a clear example of elevating the shadow in the turns of a conversation.  The question posed in the second paragraph above, spoke directly to the horrifying acts that continue to be perpetuated on innocent people and contextualize those acts in a period of history when the genocide of groups of people were conducted in a methodological way.  The tenor of the question departed from the preceding pattern of comments and questions, which amplified the heroic choice of the reformer.  This encounter, one of two deeply textured narratives:  those of a “transformed white supremist” and a child of holocaust survivors whose life work is to share photographs of victims[1] with the world and to, in the process, help families build connections where bridges have been lost, shines a light on the value and importance of embracing the wholeness principle.

[1] Photographs, which were collected from prisoners as they entered the concentration camp, were discovered by this woman during a tour of the camps over a decade ago.


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