Moving beyond stereotypes

Stereotypes represent a lazy, non-reflective approach to interpersonal relationships. Once we apply a stereotype, it is easy to think that we know everything there is to know about the other person. Moving Beyond Duality examines the dynamics of stereotyping and its negative consequences. In order to shift away from being constrained by stereotypes, we need to be curious about the other individual.

One of the techniques that has proven most successful is Appreciative Inquiry, which has grown out of a 1987 article by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivasta. At its core, Appreciative Inquiry is the posing of questions to elicit what is most meaningful in people’s lives. Instead of focusing on problems and problem solving, it focuses on what is working well as a gateway to envisioning an optimal future. Among the many definitions of Appreciative Inquiry (AI), Sue Hammond, in The Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry states:

The traditional approach to change is to look for the problem, do a diagnosis, and find a solution. The primary focus is on what is wrong or broken; since we look for problems, we find them. By paying attention to problems, we emphasize and amplify them. …Appreciative Inquiry suggests that we look for what works in an organization. The tangible result of the inquiry process is a series of statements that describe where the organization wants to be, based on the high moments of where they have been. Because the statements are grounded in real experience and history, people know how to repeat their success. (pages 6-7)

This approach formed the basis for the development of the United Religions Initiative in which cooperation circles comprised of individuals from at least three different spiritual traditions engage first in learning about each other through asking questions and then in undertaking joint socially transformative projects. There is also an Appreciative Inquiry Commons with a great range of additional resources.