Provision #400: Avoid Exclusive Thinking

Laser Provision

It’s easy to get seduced by the word “exclusive.” It sounds so attractive, favorable, and special. From exclusive offers to exclusive communities, we find ourselves drawn to privileges and perks. But this is not the road to life. Interdependence, inclusion, and involvement lead to far greater rewards, not to mention a better world for us all.

LifeTrek Provision

Welcome to Provision number 400! Since our first issue, more than six years ago (on January 28, 1999 to be exact), we have been blessed by the opportunity to serve you a weekly piece of our collective minds. Not everyone gets to do that! Your continued support and readership is much appreciated. Keep those cards and letters coming.

We are focused, in this series, on the things that make for spiritual wellness. And although I was not exactly sure how this series would go when I started writing, it’s now clear that we are going to explore 12 things to avoid — because they lead to spiritual illness • before we explore 12 things to embrace • because they lead to spiritual wellness. And we’ve already covered a lot of territory:

Avoid magical thinking, as well as cynical, positive, negative, and unexamined thinking. All these things lead to spiritual illness either because they represent our attempt to package life according to our expectations or because they represent a failure to think about life at all. Yet there are many other things that lead to spiritual illness, not the least of which is exclusive thinking.

When the poet Carl Sandburg was once asked by a television interviewer, “What is the ugliest word in the English language?” He thought for a while, repeated the question, and then thought some more. Finally, after looking off into the distance for a considerable time, he turned toward the interviewer and said, “The ugliest word … the ugliest word is … ‘exclusive.'”

Does that surprise you? It might, since more often than not people seek out the “exclusive” as a positive good:

— Reporters want exclusive stories.
— Honeymooners want exclusive resorts.
— Golfers belong to exclusive clubs.
— Executives demand exclusive accommodations.
— Restaurants boast of exclusive menus.
— Developers look for exclusive properties.
— Recruiters seek exclusive talent.
— Museums curate exclusive exhibits.
— Agents negotiate exclusive contracts.
— Stores advertise exclusive sales.
— Lenders offer exclusive terms.
— Religions proclaim exclusive truths.

How, then, could “exclusive” • so universally sought after and approved of • be the “ugliest word in the English language?” Perhaps Martin Luther King, Jr. can point us, as he so often does, in the right direction. “We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish,” he once noted in a sermon, “but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers and sisters. Our abundance has brought us neither peace of mind nor serenity of spirit.”

That’s what happens when we seek or claim exclusive rights and privileges. We benefit at someone else’s expense. We get the scoop while someone else gets left out. We are shown hospitality while someone else is turned away. We eat while someone else goes hungry. We sign the contract while someone else licks their wounds. We get a discount while someone else pays a premium. We go to heaven while someone else goes to hell.

“We are fools!” Dr. King proclaims, “if we fail to realize our dependence on others. We are victims of the cancerous disease of egotism if we fail to realize that wealth always comes as a result of the commonwealth. We cannot plow the fields and build the barns alone. We are heirs of a vast treasury of ideas and labor to which both the living and the dead have contributed. When an individual or a nation overlooks this interdependence, we find a tragic foolishness.”

“In a real sense, all life is interrelated. All people are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”

It is a structure that gets torn asunder by every exclusive claim and practice. Discrimination in one area leads to discrimination in others. Judgment for one leads to judgment for all. And when the structure of reality gets torn asunder by such claims and practices, we are headed not only for physical and political problems but for spiritual problems as well.

That’s because things of the spirit have everything to do with “the interrelated structure of reality.” There’s no way to take care of me, in the here and now, to the exclusion of others, without taking a toll on us all in both this life and the next. The 15th century Indian poet, Kabir, claimed by Hindus and Muslims alike, expresses this sentiment powerfully in a poem rendered into modern English by Robert Bly. Here is the relevant portion:

Friend, hope for the Guest while you are alive.
Jump into experience while you are alive!
Think…and think…while you are alive.
What you call “salvation” belongs to the time before death.

If you don’t break your ropes while you’re alive,
do you think
ghosts will do it after?

The idea that the soul will join with the ecstatic
just because the body is rotten —
that is all fantasy.

What is found now is found then.
If you find nothing now,
you will simply end up with an apartment in the City of Death.
If you make love with the divine now, in the next life
you will have the face of satisfied desire.

What beautiful imagery! What a challenging message. “What is found now is found then.” Don’t misconstrue that as yet another exclusive self-help claim. The point is not to get all we can here so we can get all we want there. The point is to embrace love now in order to experience satisfaction both in this life and the next.

That’s what it means to “break our ropes” and to “jump into experience while we are alive.” These are neither the exclusive perks of privilege, position, and power nor the exclusive benefits of private pastimes and pleasures. We cannot achieve these things for ourselves, while the rest of the world goes to hell. To “make love with the divine” is to embrace interdependence, to “break our ropes” is to embrace inclusion, and to “jump into experience” is to embrace involvement.

Interdependence, inclusion, and involvement are the things that make for spiritual wellness. The more we avoid exclusive thinking the better it will be both for ourselves and for others. It’s exclusive thinking that leads to the “isms” of the world. Whether our concern has to do with race, gender, age, sexual orientation, ability, politics, economics, or religion • the more we establish our way as the exclusive way the more likely we will be to end up with “simply an apartment in the City of Death.”

Do what you can to avoid such an unfortunate outcome! No matter how well you can defend your position, no matter how sure you may be of your convictions, no matter how confident you may be of your experience, do not make your way the only way. Instead, draw the circle wide. Indeed, make room for those who want to color outside the circle. Then stand back and smile at the delightful variations in life.

Outside my window are two birdfeeders, Click to View, one filled with seed and the other with suet. As I write this, there’s a woodpecker on the suet as well as finches and a tufted titmouse on the seed feeder. On the ground are sparrows, chickadees, towhees, mourning doves, and squirrels. Apparently, birds of a feather do not always flock together! If birds can avoid exclusive thinking, surely we can too.

Coaching Inquiries: Do you insist on your way as the only way? How much latitude do you allow for diversity and difference? Are interdependence, inclusion, and involvement part of your worldview? How could you become more loving and tolerant of others?

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LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..


This week’s Provision is outstanding. I am going to email it to some friends. I think too many people ignore the spiritual side of life and just don’t understand why they aren’t happy. I met you in 2002 at the Baltimore Marathon and have been receiving and reading your posts ever since. Sometimes more sometimes less. You are truly inspiring. Recently I inspired my sister to take up running at the age of 53! It’s never, never too late!!


I just wanted to say Thank You, and to let you know that your last Provision, Avoid Unexamined Thinking, is probably the most inspiring piece that I have received from you in the two-plus years that you have so generously sent me these Provisions.


I have been reading your Provisions everyday and I think they’re kind and refreshing. I would like to contribute to the world in this way, but haven’t found a way in yet. Keep up the good work.


I’m a Chinese girl who subscribes to your Provisions. I love them! They always remind me to work hard when I have lapses, so I will give my true thankfulness for you and your team!



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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