Diversity – a double edged sword

"Diversity – a double edged sword"December News flash – the world is becoming increasingly diverse.

We have been talking about embracing diversity for years.   And yet, I still hear people say they are tired of talking about it and sighing as they long for the day when it will “no longer be an issue”. Reminds me of the Rodney King quote “can’t we just all get along?” Well, apparently not. All you have to do is watch or read the news and you will quickly be disavowed of the impression that we are sensitive to each other’s gender, culture, race, sexual orientation or religious differences. And by “we” I don’t just mean Americans, I mean “we” the people of the planet. So, let’s not seduce ourselves into believing that because we “embrace differences” that we are diversity sensitive and free of bias

People tell me often that diversity is “not just a Black/White issue”;  and that diversity is also about diversity of thought and decision making and inter-personal differences.    I am not always sure what they really mean, but what I hear in the sub-text of that is that it is just too difficult for us to deal with thorny issues and it would be better if we broadened the topic.    So, what is it to be as we close the doors on 2011 and hit the ignition key for 2012 – Embrace Diversity or Wish it would go away?

As we wrap up 2011 I am in a reflective mood and thought I would take a minute to contemplate that double-edged sword.  On the one hand our diversity is what makes us exciting, beautiful, complex, wondrous and never boring.  Our differences weave a rich tapestry within our families, with our friends, within our communities and countries and without question, across the entire spectrum of our planet.  As we sit across the dinner table this holiday season, breaking bread with family and friends, I venture to suggest that there will be at least one “eye rolling moment” at every table, where people laugh and say to themselves “Hah hah, he/she may be a character, but           (s)he’s our character”.  We forgive people we love for their idiosyncracies, and in fact we often find them endearing. (Well sometimes we do).  On the other hand, we are not so patient with people who are different from us but are not included in our inner circle.  They become fodder for complaint, contempt and condescension.

And therein lies the double-edged sword of diversity. You are cool if you are in my inner circle and not so cool if you are not.  So maybe the issue with diversity is not about our differences at all. It is really about our ability to include people.  How do we become more inclusive?  Well, in order to get there we first have to own the fact that we are really quite exclusionary.  Come on, be honest; if you really think about it and take stock how many people and groups do you exclude from your warm and fuzzy list?  Yes, that’s right, probably as many as I do.  No one gets to be a phenomenological exception.  We are all territorial and I have a news flash to add to the news flash – we are not going to stop being territorial any time soon.   So how about a New Year’s resolution – to widen your circle of inclusion.  Maybe if we all did that 6 degrees of separation could become a reality.   Happy New Year to you and yours and to all the people you don’t yet include.

This entry was posted by Dr. Helen Turnbull in Diversity & Global Inclusion. Bookmark the permalink. Follow comments with the RSS feed for this post.