Breaking Free From False Dichotomies

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Empowering girls + women is part of my soul's work. And. I'm realizing it's bigger than that.

Recently, I went to see Brene Brown in NYC while she was touring the country, sharing takeaways from her new book Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone. So much of what she shared that night hit home.

But, there was one piece that rocked me to my core. 

The circle of moral inclusion. 

I'd never heard of it before. Or maybe I had, but wasn't ready to really hear it. 

Brene so eloquently described why it’s important to focus on those who’ve been oppressed and dehumanized - those who've been sitting outside the circle of moral inclusion. She talked about the Black Lives Matter movement as an example, and the subsequent push-back and debate that came in the form of All Lives Matter.

Many groups of people have been dehumanized in this country - morally excluded for far too long. Based on gender, ideology, skin color, ethnicity, religion and/or age - we have groups of people who've been kept outside of the circle for far too long.

Brene challenged us to Move Closer.

To open the circle and invite all who’ve been morally excluded back in. And that means doing more - equitable doesn’t mean equal. We have to work at it.

We need to intentionally create space to invite them back in. 


When it comes to race, I've always been in the circle.

This aha moment hit me like a ton of bricks in graduate school when I was forced to confront my white privilege for the first time, while taking a course on inequities in education. My first response was anger and defensiveness.

Privilege? I had to work my ass off to get where I am today - and so did my parents. Nothing was handed to me, I thought. 

I can't control my DNA. Why should I be held responsible for what my ancestors did / didn't do?

I see people - not color. I said in class. 

Then you aren't really seeing them. My professor said.

His words pierced through my heart. Crushing me. I loved my students with everything I had. They were my world. 

Shame. Embarrassment. Helplessness set in. 

I didn't understand. How can we move past race if we focus on color? I wondered. How am I supposed to know what I don't know? 

I realized it was my responsibility - as someone who stood in the circle - to dive in and find out.

Admittedly, I'm still learning about all the ways privilege has showed up in my life - that's exactly the definition.

When we're sitting inside the circle, we have to make a concerted effort to lift our heads, take a step back and create space. 

I do know that defensiveness and shame are not the answers. 

I didn't choose the color of my skin.

I can choose to understand the historical and cultural implications. 

My parents were pregnant as teens. There were hard times. Lots of them.

Recognizing and honoring the struggles of others does not negate or diminish our own. Both can be true. 

A lot was handed to me by the Universe. My family. My genetics. Where and when I was born.

Owning and acknowledging privilege doesn't mean I'm bad or did something wrong.

 There was nothing I wanted more than to reach my students - to see them, hear them and meet them where they were - to watch them soar.

I needed to step into that space in between - to see them AND understand that all my students were coming to the classroom with their own unique life experiences - which were very different than my own - many shaped by the racial, socioeconomic and gender inequities that still exist.

And, when I started to see my students - really see them - I started to reach them in a very different way.

The biggest shift:

Awareness. Ownership. And. Empathy.  

And yet, being inside of one circle doesn't mean you're in them all.

When it comes to gender, I've always been on the outside.

I stand on the shoulders of pioneers who've fought hard to bring awareness to the issue of gender discrimination. I grew up in a world where playing sports was encouraged - a direct beneficiary of Title IX.

And. We still have work to do.

It's the work that lights up my soul: Inspiring and empowering young girls and women to cultivate the courage, resilience and perseverance to live their dream. 

So, when I saw a post from a friend essentially asking the question:

How can we empower girls - and invite them into the circle - without disempowering boys?

I felt pulled to share. 

It's interesting out here. And even more interesting to see the bracing and defensiveness that exist as the structure of circles are challenged. 

Black Lives Matter. #MeToo. The push for gender equity. 

False dichotomies are everywhere - forcing us to 'pick sides' on issues that are complex. Juxtaposing. Pigeonholing.

Us vs. Them. Right vs. Wrong. Winners vs. Losers. Sum Zero.

And the idea that there's not enough room for all.

Blinding us to the common connection that is our shared humanity. 

For those of us who've been inside the circle, it's time to put our fists down and change the way we think about things.  

It's time to ask ourselves why we're so afraid to step back and create space for others?

Why do we feel so threatened? What's underneath that? 

It's time to ask ourselves why we default to the notion that there's not enough to go around? 

It's time to ask how we can widen the circle without shifting to shame?  

It's time to step into the discomfort. Because, we can do hard.

It's time for those of us who are in the circle to own, acknowledge and take action.

It's time for those of us on the outside of the circle to step in without stepping on.

And about the post -

Empowering girls + women does not equate to the disempowerment of boys + men when we lead with love and embrace abundance.

I'm so struck by this symbol of a circle.

Complete. Whole. Oneness. There's enough room for all.  

We don't need to swap spots. We need to link arms.


Samantha Livingstone is an Olympic Gold Medalist, transformational speaker, high performance coach and mama of four.  She inspires and empowers others to cultivate the courage, resilience and perseverance needed to let go of perfection and other limiting beliefs so they can live their dream. Samantha candidly shares her battles with her inner critic, depression, perfection, PTSD and parenting as a working mother because she believes in the transformative power of story – and the strength that comes from knowing we are not alone. She is on a mission to pay forward all that she’s learned to help others find joy and live free.  

A mama of heart warrior and mama of twins, Samantha and her husband, Rob, live in the Berkshires with their four girls.  

You can learn more about Samantha at