I had some friends over this past weekend, and eventually—as it always seems to happen—politics came into the conversation. And because it just goes around and around and around, driving everyone batty, I wanted to cut to the chase.
For me, the bottom line of it all is this: we, as a global community, need to be doing a much better job living with diversity.
As my friends and I were talking, I outlined what I saw as the steps for embracing diversity. And my friends were wonderful at contributing with probing questions, beautiful insights and all-around good cheer. So, here is what we, a diverse little crew hanging out on Friday night, put together:
Step One: Assume diversity.
We thought this should be a bumper sticker. It does feel like we humans tend to approach all situations with a default of assuming self-sameness. This is, at its heart, a little fear that subtly runs in the background looking for “sameness” in our interactions, in order to feel safe. But in reality, we are tremendously unique. We are beautiful balls of light and love and Oneness. We are One, which means we are all the same root, branching into bloom in entirely unique blossoms. That uniqueness is awesome.
An example, last week I asked a friend to connect with me ‘around five’. We confirmed it. Then I checked in for what ‘around five’ meant to him. He said it meant send a text a few minutes before five assuming we will connect on the phone between 5pm and 5:30. But for me, ‘around five’ means we connect on the phone about 5:00pm. So, we are a little diverse in our understanding.
What a feeling that can give us! Approaching everything and everyone assuming diversity… can you feel the relaxation in that?
Step Two: Find same values.
While we are all unique blossoms, it’s still important to find out where we have the same values. Since we so often assume sameness, we overlook seeing it directly.
For example, the friend I mentioned above who I connected with last week… we had the same values. We both wanted to connect, we both wanted to find a solution for a hard thing that had come between us. It was important that we both had this awareness, that we wanted to connect and find a harmony.
I know this sounds like such a small example in comparison to say, if you’re a Christian and I am a Muslim, and we both want to celebrate God and but we go about it very differently. But the same rule applies. Same value: Loving God. Diversity is in how each of us approaches our devotion.
Step Three: Understand the personal story behind the differences.
We all love stories. It’s the best way to understand each other. It’s why we go to the movies, or why you read this blog. Stories are where we see and understand ourselves from a larger, more detailed perspective.
I am from Canada, and when I moved to California I found it hard to get anyone to be punctual. (Well, sort of. If you know me well, I’m usually five minutes late to most things. So that’s what I mean by punctual.)
So, in California, sometimes people would be 45 mins late, sometimes they would not show up at all, and often this would happen with no communication to me—like no text or phone call. Most surprising to me is that it generally seemed to be considered acceptable behaviour, with no explanation or accountability required.
Now, I find Canadians generally to be more punctual and communicative than the Cali folks I was meeting. I think California, as birth place of the hippies, has people who are comparatively more lackadaisical with punctuality and precise communication. And so I got very frustrated for a while, until I learned that “California time” (like “Hawaii time”) means something different than it does where I was from. And it was only in my understanding of the story of ‘casual’ time—a vibe that means relax, meditate, let it unfold, don’t wait around, just move with life and I might come and move with you, or I might not, and so on. I had to understand the story of time was different.
These days, I understand it better and know to ask for details, but because of my upbringing and hardwiring I will always preference my culture’s version of punctuality, so that is why I have that definition of ‘around five.’ But my friend is from California, and his definition makes sense to me.
Another example: Let’s say you were raised catholic, but found your family and church to be a place of disconnection. Then you married into a Jewish community that felt like soft and loving connection, and that God was something you could connect to, so perhaps now you call God HaShem, and the term God is where you kind of turn off.
Bottom line? Ask questions to find out the story behind the diverse values.
Step Four: Diversity rocks.
Fear can sometimes convince us that diversity is threatening. However, upon closer inspection, it’s clear that diversity is extremely valuable.
From what I can see, diversity is how this whole game of life gets its juiciness.
Diversity gives us a much more detailed and larger pool of information.
Diversity gives us many more resources, gives us a wider and clearer insight. It’s the way to depth and breadth.
Diversity is immensely important for unique talents to evolve and actualize.
Even just plain and simple: Diversity gives us more options.
The gains of diversity are actually unlimited. We really need to understand this. Take the threat away, and notice the profound gains. Sameness, boring. Diversity, exciting!
Step Five: You are already AWESOME at this.
Understand that you are already awesome at navigating diversity. We don’t notice this small fact, the fact that we literally navigate diversity every time we engage with another human. We don’t struggle, we don’t falter… we navigate it.
When it comes right down to the nitty-gritty reality, every moment you are in relationship you are navigating diversity. Your kids, your wife, your co-workers… they all have diverse experiences, diverse values, diverse desires. And you are navigating this each and every moment. If you understand that you are a diversity specialist, and in fact you can navigate it with ease, then you can notice that big ones, the ones that get the hair on the back of your neck up, are going to be no big deal.
You may not agree, you may not even cooperate, but you don’t have to fear a diverse expression. Your kids want pizza, you want a nap, your husband wants to mow the lawn. Okay, you can figure that out. Political maneuvers are threatening to engulf you in fear and worse case scenarios, relax. There is room for more than that voice, there is room for your voice—must be, if there is room for theirs. There is a diverse solution happening, and this political choice is activating a huge momentum for more diverse voices. Diversity is a great catalyst. And you got this.
So, here is the cool thing about these steps: you’re the only one who needs to use them. You don’t only have to play with the cool kids who are tuned in, you can play with everyone.
When we use these steps, we find harmony in diversity with anyone, even if they don’t want to play. If we step up and assume diversity, even if they don’t, then find the same values, by simply looking, then we can ask them questions about themselves, and that helps us understand how they came to their held responses and ideas.
And already, just those steps will begin to create a limbic connection that feels like “friend.” That feels like “I see you, I want to understand you.” And that, no matter how diverse we are, there is a way through, and we are likely able to navigate it. There is communication of connection, of not being afraid of our differences, and not even being afraid that they might be afraid of our differences.
Moving forward, we need to have the willingness to understand that you got this, and it’s possible to understand and it’s even possible that the diversity in front of you, even the ones that are dismissing you, silencing you, in your face, could be very valuable. And that is how we move forward.
Can I get an Amen?