I recently saw an ad for a diversity training course that is being offered by one of the local real estate associations. If one takes the course they will receive a designation that they supposedly can use in their real estate advertising that somehow is supposed to increase their business by certifying them as being diversity aware and sensitive. It just looked to me like someone has thought up a new way to make a buck selling a training course.
In my prior life in the corporate world, I attended several diversity training courses over the span of my career. The early ones focused almost entirely on racial diversity but eventually they evolved into ethnic and gender diversity and more recently into sexual orientation/preference diversity. One thing that all of these courses had in common is the us vs. them mentality with which they approach the topic. It is always taught from the perspective that we (the us in the equation) don’t understand and appreciate the other group’s life experiences and thus don’t understand their lifestyle or their perspective on life. There is certainly truth in that statement, but I always wondered why it had to start from us vs. them and not to find a way to start with just “us” as a whole, as humans, and go from there.
Of course, the other starting point perspective was the “we” are the white majority and “they” are in whatever minority that the course is focused upon. Current demographic trends will soon make that statement false. Most of these courses try to teach the attendees how to “value differences”, which is to say how to accept and embrace those differences as good things and not just odd things. Companies that have truly embraced diversity have prospered and people who individually embrace diversity will do better, too. Why? Because their lives will be richer because of understanding, experiencing and assimilating those differences into their own lives. Understanding and embracing differences also serves to remove the unwarranted fears that the unknown always brings with it.
The latest group to demand and deserve to be the subject of of diversity acceptance is the GLBTQI community. This group has also faced rejection by the so-called “moral majority”. Imagine the moral outrage that would be caused in that group by encountering a black, transgender person from the middle east living as a woman. One wouldn’t know where to start discriminating against that person. It might send the moral majority into apoplexy in North Carolina, if they asked to go to the bathroom.
I think one of the things that pulls us towards understanding diversity is our innate curiosity to understand people and what makes them tick. That’s one reason that I wrote the post Trying to understand others without a frame of reference. That article referenced a very interesting blog post by Lori Sealy, a young lady who lives on the Autism spectrum. Lori related some of her day-to-day experiences and how she sees and feels things differently than most people (the “us” in that case) do. People with needs that are different from the normal needs of the vast majority of the people also bring a different (nee diverse) perspective that deserves attention and understanding. So now our worst case example might be an autistic black transgender person from the middle east living as a woman. It boggles the mind of a bigot.
There is great potential value in diversity since it brings with it ideas and perspectives that you will never have on your own, based solely on your limited life experiences. You may not like or agree with all of those ideas and perspective, but at least you will now know that they exist and that there are people who do like and embrace them. You may also find yourself challenged to be able to respond the question “why don’t you try it” when asked about a food or a clothing style or a type of music or whatever else comes along with the diverse background and culture of the person that you have met.
Don’t panic. They aren’t likely to ask you to do something illegal or totally out of character for you; but, they may challenge you to stretch your comfort zone a bit, so that you can share an experience from their perspective or their culture. Go for it on the things that you can and be polite when declining the ones that you just can’t bring yourself to try. My wife and I never could quite convince ourselves to try the wonderful fish heads that a Jamaican friend of mine years ago wanted us to try. Sometimes I wish I had at least tried it.
The bottom line is that no one is asking you to become something that you’re not, just to try harder to understand the perspective, the feelings and the needs of something that you’re not. You might just find value from that effort and perhaps even add a few new things to your experiences and knowledge base. You will almost certainly have become a better person for having overcome the knee-jerk reaction (emphasis on the “jerk” part) to discriminate against that person. You may eventually get to the point where your view of diversity starts with the perspective that we are all humans just trying to make it through life the best way that we can. While some travel paths that are more difficult than others, we all end up at the end of the line in the same place.
Have a great and diverse day.