Leonard Nimoy, Diversity and Social Change

Leonard Nimoy-

Photo by Gage Skidmore

With Leonard Nimoy's passing, I have found myself reflecting back both personally and professionally. Growing up watching Star Trek, I was strongly influenced both by Nimoy's performance...but also with the show's focus on diversity, tolerance, and acceptance. In recent months, I have had some experiences that have me reflecting on those values as they apply to nonprofits, social ventures/social entrepreneurship, and other mission-driven organizations.

There's been no major incident - just a variety of smaller things that provide some concern. A social entrepreneur once confiding in me that he felt nonprofits were "ineffectual", and that business was the only answer. Board members of an organization espousing values but acting in a contrary manner. A colleague advising me against any overt criticism of our field, because we're "too busy tearing each other down"....or words to that effect.

On the one hand, I wonder if any perception of a "split" between social ventures and nonprofits is merely due to a highly charged, more competitive environment in Chicago. Everyone has a role to play, and perhaps the need to tout one over the other may be due to a perception of scarcity of resources rather than the power of collaboration. In addition, I think that many of these experiences speak to key values in the social benefit field: diversity, tolerance, acceptance, and community.

For me, Nimoy's passing has brought many of these values to the forefront - especially since his primary role helped me develop greater tolerance and wider belief in diversity. In fact, my main underlying principle (which informs this very blog) is that nobody has a monopoly on driving or advocating for social change. Perhaps focusing less on our own "nobility" in driving social change and more on building stronger collaborations with other like-minded individuals and organizations. One particular Star Trek episode proposed the concept of IDIC (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations) which proposes the idea that when different elements interact - and when we come to a common thread - the result are more creative, influential strategies and outcomes.

But one of the building blocks for this is self-exploration: looking at our own innate biases, assumptions, etc. Perhaps this recent video by Jay Smooth, focusing on the Oscars, can explain the process much better than I can:

As professionals in various organizations - nonprofits, social ventures, community agencies, and other mission-driven organizations - we should be focusing as much on being good as on doing good. Making a commitment to checking our own assumptions and biases - regardless of whether we believe we're on the "right side" of this issue - is a critical first step in driving a much more diverse environment that fosters social change. Many of us do not challenge our own assumptions, or worse - simply assume that we're automatically "covered" because we're on the "right side". But such introspection and self-examination should be as much a part of our personal and professional missions as it is for various Chicago organizations. And with tolerance comes acceptance that despite any difference or disagreement, an organization or community's strengths comes through handling and resolving such conflicts in a healthy manner, and that greater social ideals can transcend ideologies. C Now - Spock Mouse

So what does all this have to do with the passing of Leonard Nimoy? Simply this: he portrayed a character struggling with a dual heritage and a dual mindset (logic-based Vulcan vs emotion-based human). Working as part of a greater community, Spock found himself frequently in conflict with others (most notably a man who continually asserted his identity as a doctor) but handled his own outer and inner quest well. Nimoy also served as an ambassador for the very humanistic values that Star Trek dramatized within its stories. But one of Nimoy's most frequently quoted lines has great relevance and resonance for social change agents in Chicago:

"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few...or the one...."

Sometimes, it's less about ourselves and more about our goals. Just something to consider and contemplate.

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