Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Synthesis and Justice…can they coexist?

Written by: on January 11, 2024

Identity.  What a hard concept to nail down and at the same time a key part of every human experience.  One of my past teachers stated, “we are the medicine, how well do you know that medicine?”. [1]  This is a key part of my “why” I do what I do and who I am.  My awareness of self, my strengths, weaknesses, triggers, life history, psychology, spirituality are all key identifiers for me.  I moved at age 24 from South Dakota to Chicago to become a Residence Hall Director at a Christian College in the city.  I intentionally went because I was tired of seeing the same demographics everywhere around me.  I learned so much in my 6 years in Residence Life at this diverse school.  Mostly how uncomfortable it was for my African American students to feel seen and respected in white spaces.  I went two times on a trip called Sankofa with the college students, once as a participant and once as a co-leader.  We were paired with a diverse partner from ourselves and took a 3-day bus ride through the Southern states, visiting important historical black monuments, such as MLK, Jr. Church and museum, a working plantation, a lynching traveling exhibit, a small-town Albany, GA where the jail was full of all African Americans and all the streets had confederate names.  It was intense, but one word I learned through this as far as my identity goes, was not racist, though I am, I have implicit biases and I am sure I have participated in racist institutions and traditions and appropriations; I had to wrestle through that and move into the space of action, this is where I learned what it means to be an Ally. I continue to wrestle on how to do this in different circumstances, and I am positive I have failed, but I have also been a companion on the journey.

Because of some of my education and training around Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion both in my past career and current career, I have been trained to “see” the diversity.  That when we deny seeing the identity of a group of lesser privilege and power and we try to jump too quickly to what we have in common it tends to hurry through the painful truths and brush over history and injustices too quickly.  The Identity Trap by Yascha Mounk was a fascinating approach to how we may solve some of our cultural problems.  I will hesitate to give a strong approval or rejection of this book until I’ve read every word, and I have not, but I tried to approach it open mindedly.

In a discussion with Tomiwa Owolade in a presentation for Intelligence Squared, Mounk explains how he came to the term Identity Synthesis; for him it meant “different intellectual influences come together and can be used for common ground discussions.”[2]  This concept of synthesis is important, and I see a lot of value in creating common ground rules for civilized discussions, as so many of our current discussions are not civilized.  Because of this idea of facing each other and having honest discussions I think Mounk is trying to help us.

I’m not sure I agree with all of what he says, but again hesitate to say so due to not knowing I missed things in the cursory reading I did.  For example, he gives “`6 pieces of advice for arguing and organizing against the identity trap in a way that is full-throated, doesn’t court unnecessary risk, and has some chance of actually persuading your interlocutors.” [3]

  1. Claim the Moral High Ground,[4] (I struggle with this first concept. I’m not convinced that some shame is important as a way to get us to slow down and think about what we are saying and to whom. )
  2. Don’t vilify those who disagree.[5] (This one could cure our election year woes).
  3. Remember that today’s adversaries can become tomorrow’s Allies.[6] (I agree, or hope it’s possible)
  4. Appeal to the Reasonable Majority[7]
  5. Make Common Cause with other opponents of the Identity Synthesis[8]
  6. …But don’t become a Reactionary.[9]

I invite you to read the descriptions of this list, but overall, I believe if we followed most of these, we would have a different society. I also strongly recommend reading Austin Channing Brown’s I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness. Here comes my humble name dropping, but I am just so darn proud of her and her space in this world, as she was one of my residents at the University where I was in Residence Life.  She also was on the Sankofa trip where I learned about Allyship.  She is strong, brilliant, and honest and so I leave us with her thoughts, “Christians talk about love a lot. It’s one of our favorite words, especially when the topic is race.  If we could just learn to love one another… Love trumps hate…Love someone different from you today… But I have found this love to be largely inconsequential”.  She goes on to say “I need a love that is troubled by injustice. A love that is provoked to anger when Black folks, including our children, lie dead in the streets. A love that can no longer be concerned with tone because it is concerned with life. A love that has no tolerance for hate, no excuses for racist decisions, no contentment in the status quo.  I need a love that is fierce in its resilience and sacrifice. I need a love that chooses justice.”[10]

[1] Kearney, Dr. Michael, talk “We are the medicine” addressed to Anam Cara Apprentices at The Sacred Art of Living Center. (Bend, OR 2016).

[2] Mounk, Yascha and Tomiwa Owolade. The Identity Trap discussion on Intelligence Squared ( debate platform, October 30,2023).

[3] Mounk, Yascha. The Identity Trap: A story of Ideas and Power in Our Time. (New York, Penguin Press, 2023). 272.

[4] Mounk, Yascha. The Identity Trap: A story of Ideas and Power in Our Time. (New York, Penguin Press, 2023). 272.

[5] Mounk, 274

[6] Ibid, 274

[7] Ibid, 276

[8] Ibid 277

[9] Ibid, 280

[10] Channing Brown, Austin. I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness. (New York, Penguin House, 2018) 175-176.

About the Author


Jana Dluehosh

Jana serves as a Spiritual Care Supervisor for Signature Hospice in Portland, OR. She chairs the corporate Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging committee as well as presents and consults with chronically ill patients on addressing Quality of Life versus and alongside Medical treatment. She has trained as a World Religions and Enneagram Spiritual Director through an Anam Cara apprenticeship through the Sacred Art of Living center in Bend, OR. Jana utilizes a Celtic Spirituality approach toward life as a way to find common ground with diverse populations and faith traditions. She has mentored nursing students for several years at the University of Portland in a class called Theological Perspectives on Suffering and Death, and has taught in the Graduate Counseling program at Portland Seminary in the Trauma Certificate program on Grief.

5 responses to “Synthesis and Justice…can they coexist?”

  1. Jenny Dooley says:

    Hi Jana,
    Thank you for your post. What a rich experience/trip you described. It sounds like a pilgrimage. May I ask what the term Sankofa means? Thank you for the book recommendation, by Austin Channing Brown. I love the quotes you highlighted for us, especially, “I need a love that is troubled by injustice. I need a love that chooses justice.” Beautiful!

    • mm Jana Dluehosh says:

      Jenny, yes, Sankofa is Swahili for “Looking back, to move ahead”. It’s beautiful, the trip was hard, but the learning was beautiful and hard.

  2. Esther Edwards says:

    Hi, Jana,
    I always love the way you think and write. I looked up Austin Channing Brown and will definitely put her on my must read list for the future.
    You mentioned…
    “When we deny seeing the identity of a group of lesser privilege and power and we try to jump too quickly to what we have in common it tends to hurry through the painful truths and brush over history and injustices too quickly.” This makes me think of Kally’s thought on the stages of grief that perhaps are being played out in society. With your work in hospice and seeing the grief process continually unfold, what is your response to this thought and what might we do as leaders to help?

  3. mm Jana Dluehosh says:

    I’m not a fan of the stages of grief and most of us in Hospice have debunked it because it doesn’t work that way. We humans tend to want everything nice and tidy. In my experience healing and forgiveness is like a spiral. We go around and around with our forgiveness and grief. We don’t just move cleanly from phase to phase, but the work is in the going through it and working on forgiveness each time the sadness, feelings, anger, etc come up it gets lighter and lighter. As leaders I think we have to sit in non-judgement. To do what Mounk wants us to do requires us to be patient, to let go of our agenda which is why I struggle with his claim the superior high ground. I just can’t get my soul around that thought as a way of being in solidarity, but I do think he has good thoughts on the why we need to move this direction and to find out how we are needing to find our way to a middle.

  4. mm Dinka Utomo says:

    Hi Janna! Thank you for sharing your experience. It’s so insightful.

    Your post captivates with its intriguing and inspiring portrayal of encountering diversity and at the same time shows a profound process of discernment regarding identity. It is evident that you approach interactions with the other sincerely, I have felt and proven it.
    Drawing from both your experience and Mounk’s thoughts, could you describe the biggest challenges to the efforts to pursue equality and human dignity, and how these challenges can be effectively addressed?

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