1. Chinn, Peggy L. RN, PhD, FAAN

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Imagine how it feels to always belong-belong in a diversified community, for it is the diversity in nature that gives the web of life its strength and cohesion. [1] (p248)


There is a prevailing perception, in my experience, that the path to unity and community in nursing lies in agreement and uniformity. I recall the many times when someone urged membership in a particular organization, or a vote along a particular line, or a public litany of admonition that if only nurses could agree, our political and social problems would be solved. These sentiments are not in themselves wrong or in error, but they usually find voice without the important preliminary steps of listening carefully for the many diverse perspectives the underlie the concerns and differing opinions of many nurses.


Learning to appreciate diverse perspectives and concerns is truly a lifelong project. Those with relative privilege in a culture carry with them what Frye [2] called the "privilege of not hearing." She recounts instances when feminist women of color have challenged white feminist activists who proceed without regard for their needs, concerns, and interests:


Many white feminists have to a fair extent responded to the demand; by which I mean, white feminists have to a fair extent chosen to hear what it was usually in their power not to hear. The hearing is, as anyone who has been on the scene knows, sometimes very defensive, sometimes dulled by fear, sometimes alarmingly partial or distorted. But it has interested me that I and other white feminists have heard the objections and demands, for I think it is an aspect of race privilege to have a choice-a choice between the options of hearing and not hearing. That is part of what being white gets you. [2] (p111)


Those who are relatively disadvantaged in a culture carry the burden of always having to hear, to listen, to be on guard, to notice, to attend, to Figure outwhat other perspectives are and how they influence what is happening in the environment. Those without privilege have little or no choice in carrying this burden.


For those with privilege, a first step in learning to value diversity is to notice when someone expresses a viewpoint that is not familiar or that is different. Once you notice, it is quite another experience to stop, set aside the inner reactions and responses to the other viewpoint, listen attentively, ask reflective questions to make sure you understand what you are hearing, and finally enter into a deep discussion that provides for exploration and clarification of that which is unfamiliar. An even deeper exploration requires self-reflection and critical examination of assumptions and social circumstances that make the hearing so difficult and the understanding even more difficult. And even deeper explorations require finding ways to share the journey with those who hold different perspectives in ways that deepen appreciation and understanding.


The path seems very difficult, even impossible. But I believe that if we are to reach for the unity and community we say we desire in nursing, it is time to to aside the appeals for agreement or singular voting strategies and instead to enter into realms of hearing and exploration that call forth our diversities. By doing so we can learn to appreciate the many perspectives and concerns and needs that our colleagues bring to the table. And in the process we will find the resources from which solidarity and community are built.


Peggy L. Chinn, RN, PhD, FAAN






1. Adair M. Working Inside Out: Tools for Change. Berkeley, Calif: Wingbow Press; 1984. [Context Link]


2. Frye M. The Politics of Reality: Essays in Feminist Theory. Freedom, Calif: Crossing Press; 1983. [Context Link]