Valdary wanted a name for this process of affecting others by helping them see their own potential. In 2016, as she completed what would become an 82-page paper on her findings, she read the 2011 book Enchantment by the Silicon Valley marketing specialist Guy Kawasaki, best known for his stint at Apple. He believes that traditional marketing and even outright manipulation are less effective than what he calls “the process of enchantment.” If you can enchant someone, you can bring about “a voluntary, enduring, and delightful change,” he argued. “By enlisting their own goals and desires, by being likable and trustworthy, and by framing a cause that others can embrace, you can change hearts, minds, and actions.”
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Now Valdary had a name for her theory: the Theory of Enchantment. In her estimation, people in the process of enchantment can be taught, as they come to more fully appreciate their own potential, to love themselves––and people who have learned to love themselves can be taught to love their neighbors.
In 2018, after two years of delivering lectures on her framework in the U.S. and abroad, she saw that her Theory of Enchantment could be applied to efforts to manage diversity and fight racism within institutions, so she launched a business, targeting educational institutions and corporations. Three principles guide all of the coursework her company offers:
- Treat people like human beings, not political abstractions.
- Criticize to uplift and empower, never to tear down, never to destroy.
- Root everything you do in love and compassion.
The Theory of Enchantment course, which Valdary taught in person before the pandemic and lately offers remotely via Zoom, eschews newly ascendant social-justice concepts and academic literature in favor of philosophical texts, civil-rights-movement speeches, nonacademic anti-racist authors such as James Baldwin, and pop culture, including shoe commercials, scenes from films, and song lyrics. The course lasts up to six weeks, though Valdary offers shorter options. At first, she focuses on people’s relationships with themselves. “A person cannot love another human being or treat another human being with the dignity they deserve if they do not love themselves,” Valdary argued on Twitter in October, noting that Baldwin agreed in The Fire Next Time: “White people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this,” he wrote, “the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.”
Valdary believes that the same logic applies to people of all races, and she never segregates her students, as some DEI courses do, because “we all deal with insecurities.” When humans handle insecurity poorly, she says, it fuels self-contempt––and overcompensation for self-contempt fuels extremist ideologies, including racism. She aims to teach the skills to develop self-worth, urging reflection on challenges we all share: mortality, imperfection, vulnerability, parental baggage. By making peace with the most trying aspects of the human condition, “you will be able to develop a capacity for empathy,” she wrote. “You will naturally want to create inclusive spaces, because the lens through which you see the world will be driven by openness, not by fear or cynicism.”