Stop telling people to bring their “whole self” to work until you understand what that term actually means. Every human beings has differentiating characteristics on the internal and the external. In companies, I have seen and heard people speak and show these characteristics in term of the whole self. I find myself asking people, do you really understand what this term means?
Last week I was in an office with an executive of a mid size tech company and during our conversation he said I want to build a culture where all of my employes can bring their whole selves to work. I looked him in the eye and said, “with or without consequence?” He look confused and I decided to jump into my explanation of defining the whole self and what it means to accept human beings flaws and all. I gave him the same definition of that term that I am going to give you in this article.
In western society, when we speak of the whole self we are referring to the positive characteristics and acceptable identities that live within our cultural norms that favors the majority. We see whole self as bringing your authenticity that is just enough for “normal” people to not get too uncomfortable. We HAVE TO ADMIT to ourselves that this is riddled with bias and prejudice especially for marginalized and oppressed populations. Thinking about whole self in this way is extremely problematic. Our whole selves are indeed results of our social conditioning. Therefore, if you do exist in spaces where you are fighting with that duality of your consciousness, you have to acknowledge that these exist within you and must change in order to become the ideal “whole self.” Many people are not there yet!
Try Inclusive Self Instead of Whole Self
The whole self includes every piece of us that makes us who we are, even the things that we don’t care to speak about or even want to think about. The whole self includes our characteristics of the light and the dark that live within us. It is synonymous with our true selves and how we make sense of the world, even if those things make no sense! It also includes those things that have produces and perpetuate harm in our society. It includes our biases, prejudices, culturally accepted personality traits. The things that cause racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia etc. Do you really want people to bring thoughts and actions that perpetuate these things in your companies? Of course not, what we want is for human beings to bring their inclusive self, that piece of you that practices welcomeness, belonging, love, acceptance, a willingness to learn new perspectives, and compassion. The piece of you that is inclusive of your identities and creates a safe space for others to do the same for their identities that aren’t based in the abomination of their existence.
Unless you are a business grounded in oppression and marginalization and will eventually disappear because the diverse identities of the world are changing, then maybe whole self does apply to you. But, if you are not, tell human beings who speak about whole self to keep it to their damn self. Let’s be real with one another, Your whole self can prevent me from being my whole self and that is not fair! Ain’t nobody got time and space for that, so let us be more mindful of this term and its validity in our everyday lives.