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Greg Thomas (Part 1) – From Race to Culture to Cosmos: Using the Dance of Our Differences to Wise Up, Harmonize, and Actualize
Episode 7711th May 2023 • Deep Transformation • Deep Transformation Podcast
00:00:00 01:01:27

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Ep. 77 (Part 1 of 2) | Greg Thomas, brilliant cultural analyst, educator, musician, speaker, and co-founder of the Jazz Leadership Project, is passionate about the power of culture to transform us as individuals and collectively. Where race is concerned, Greg presents an illuminating, multiperspectival view of the many layered issues around racism in this country. Early on, Greg developed a systemic perspective on how everything fits together, and realized that the issues that plague us are not just about race or racism, but the overarching systemic racial worldview. Greg offers that the way out of this morass lies in adopting a cultural lens to replace the racial lens. And Greg points out that when we further embrace a cultural worldview in a participatory way, it opens up all the doors and windows: creating room for individuals to shine, for groups to experience group flow, for all of us to enjoy beauty and appreciation—the way soloist, band, and audience come together in a shared musical experience. 

When Greg talks about the power of culture, sharing anecdotes about blues masters, blues philosophy, and great moments in jazz history, it becomes clear just how effective culture is at dissolving boundaries and heightening connection, and how music (in this case) allows us to transcend our differences, our daily burdens, and experience unbounded joy. This is a lively, impactful, and poignant dialogue, with wisdom ranging from the deeply spiritual, the psychological/developmental, to the political and universal. Recorded January 25, 2023.

“Out of the many…one: this is the challenge, the spiritual challenge, for Americans and for humanity.”

(For Apple Podcast users, click here to view the complete show notes on the episode page.)

Topics & Time Stamps – Part 1

  • Introducing Greg Thomas, jazz & blues scholar, musician, educator, and cultural sage (01:02)
  • The blues speaks to everyone: as the Buddha said, life is suffering (03:04)
  • The experience of Black Americans and their relationship with absurdity (05:07)
  • Cultural appropriation is a misunderstanding of the way culture works: the difference between plagiarism and cultural appropriation (06:42)
  • Flourishing happens when different ideas and cultures come together (09:05)
  • Recognizing the fundamental tributary that the Black American experience and culture is to American history and American culture: using a cultural lens instead of a racial one (13:46)
  • Greg Thomas’ spiritual journey: integrating traditionalism, modernism, postmodernism, Integral Theory, a pre-traditional experience, and studying African syncretism, Taoism, Kabbalah, and more (17:38)
  • How Greg developed a systemic perspective on how everything fits together, the blues wisdom tradition, and the 4th zone of the Integral Map (22:21)
  • Dealing with the range and depth of the wicked problems we have today is ultimately going to take wisdom (25:37)
  • How indigenous wisdom was lost during the Age of Enlightenment and the challenge of the Integral movement to provide a framework for integration (26:08)
  • One of our fundamental problems stems from the notion that we are separate from nature, separate from the divine (29:24)
  • Out of the many…one: this is the challenge, the spiritual challenge, for Americans and for humanity (32:22)
  • Is ethnocentricity (and therefore racism) a natural part of the evolutionary ladder? (35:54)
  • The concept of rooted cosmopolitanism (40:15)
  • Ken Wilber’s “dignities and disasters” of modernity (45:20)
  • Beyond ethnocentrism and how each stage has its traps: one trap is the denial of any differences between races, which isn’t right either (47:21)
  • Deracialization and the fundamental concept of our identity: making sense of the complex terms race and identity (50:06)
  • It’s not just about race or racism, but the overarching systemic racial worldview (53:57)
  • Perspectival and participatory knowing are crucial, so we can engage with one another and develop skills of interaction (56:09)
  • The swing era of the 1930s, stomping the blues, and group flow (58:29)

Resources & References – Part 1

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Greg Thomas is CEO of the Jazz Leadership Project, a private company that uses jazz music as a model to enhance leadership success and team excellence. Along with his wife and partner Jewel, the Jazz Leadership Project works with notable firms such as JPMorgan Chase, Verizon, TD Bank, and Google. The leadership blog features their writings. Greg has been a professional journalist for over 25 years. He is currently a Senior Fellow of the Institute for Cultural Evolution. As an educator, Greg recently taught a course, “Cultural Intelligence: Transcending Race, Embracing Cosmos,” and co-facilitated a six-month class in 2022, titled “Stepping Up: Wrestling with America’s Past, Reimagining Its Future, Healing Together.”

As Co-Director of the Omni-American Future Project, Greg co-produced a two-day broadcast and awards ceremony, “Combating Racism and Antisemitism Together: Shaping an Omni-American Future” in October 2021 and the second annual event in November 2022, “Straight Ahead: An Omni-American Future, Fighting Bigotry Together.” In September 2022, Greg co-facilitated a one-day conference, “Resolving the Race-ism Dilemma.” He also serves on the advisory boards of The Consilience Project, and FAIR, the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism. 


Podcast produced by Vanessa Santos and Show Notes by Heidi Mitchell