Philanthropy Roundtable recently spoke with Chloé Valdary, owner of Theory of Enchantment, a company that offers a diversity and inclusion program emphasizing love. In this Q&A, she notes that many diversity trainings inject toxicity into workplaces, schools and other institutions — and even reinforce racial stereotypes. By contrast, Valdary’s approach encourages people to treat each other as individuals, focusing on “social-emotional learning, character development and interpersonal growth as tools for leadership development in the boardroom and beyond.”
Q: What is the Theory of Enchantment?
The Theory of Enchantment is an antiracism program that teaches participants how to successfully combat supremacy by learning how to love themselves and others. We have three guiding principles. First, treat people like human beings, not political abstractions. Second, criticize to uplift and empower, never to tear down or destroy. Third, try to root everything you do in love and compassion.
Q: How do you apply these principles in your work with clients?
We have workshops and online courses that participants can enroll in to learn about our methodology. More specifically, we teach that racism is a form of “splitting,” a psychological term that refers to the human tendency to divide the world into fixed categories — such as known and unknown, black and white, good and evil — as a way to make sense of chaos. But these extremes aren’t the reality. Think of the yin-yang symbol in Daoism. In truth, there is light in darkness and there is darkness in light. Each depends upon the other in order to exist. And in order for people to make peace with these complementary forces, we must make peace with how they show up within us. This requires the pursuit of an integrated, whole way of being, where we get in right relationship with our insecurities, baggage and other human “stuff,” so that we’re less likely to project things we dislike about ourselves onto others.
Q: How does your approach both resemble and differ from the typical Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) approach?
Some DEI programs teach people to prejudge others based upon skin color, including by making assumptions about the lived experiences of others based upon their physical appearances. We do not do this. This approach is part of the same pattern that gave rise to racism in the first place. Also, many programs merely make propositional statements about the way they believe the world works, but fail to tackle behavioral change. An example of a propositional statement might be to tell someone that they’re privileged or oppressed based upon their skin color. This is problematic for two reasons: 1) it’s a stereotype that still caricatures people based on skin color and 2) it’s an assertion that doesn’t actually result in behavior change. Behavior change requires practice and the development of new habits, two of our main areas of focus, especially in Enchantment Academy, our flagship online course. And while we do have our own take on implicit bias, it’s rooted in our understanding of splitting, and everyone, regardless of skin color, engages in splitting.
Q: You use Disney characters in your trainings on diversity. Can you walk us through how that works?
We use a ton of pop culture, including Disney films, to teach participants about the human condition. We have people watch films and then relate characters’ development to their own lives. Almost every Disney film is about a flawed character seeking integration of some sort into a larger society — think of Simba, Moana or Aladdin. This integration is what we also seek when we practice the principles of Theory of Enchantment. So when we advise that people treat others “like human beings, not political abstractions,” we might explore what it means to be human and how the human being is a dynamic, ever-becoming, ever-transforming person — not a fixed, stereotyped caricature. And we might explore a film like “Inside Out” or “Beauty and the Beast” to unpack what that means.
Q: Which questions do you typically ask about an organization before pursuing training with them?
We ask organizations about their goals in seeking us out and clarify whether participants are willing to engage in a culture of practice. We have programs for organizations looking to get a taste of what Theory of Enchantment is all about and we relish those as well as more immersive experiences, but there’s no such thing as long-term cultural change without long-term participatory practice.
Q: What should a senior leadership team discuss before pursuing training?
The senior team at an organization needs to have a conversation about whether or not it’s willing to adopt a culture of practice and habit formation when it comes to this work, which is ultimately about creating a place of inclusion and belonging. That means being willing to build new systems into the organization. It also requires the willingness to see yourself as both a leader and a follower, or a teacher and a student, even if you’re in the senior level at your workplace – and perhaps especially so. In addition to this, a senior leadership team needs to be willing to grapple with the L word: love. In this post-COVID-19 world, there is a scarcity of needs — both material and social/emotional — causing people to operate in crisis mode. Whenever scarcity increases, the likelihood of splitting goes up, and with it comes prejudice. As the civil rights movement taught us, there is really only one solution to successfully and sustainably stem that rising tide, and that is love. Martin Luther King Jr. said that love was the aim and ideal of the civil rights movement. And at Theory of Enchantment, we try to center that approach in all that we do.