I grew up in a home of lively debate. We were encouraged to defend our position with an informed argument – even if the debate was over whose turn it was to load the dishwasher. The fear of conflict did not exist in my family. It was not only acceptable to disagree, it was encouraged as long as you could own the defeat or ‘respectfully’ disagree and move on. Alternately, forcing your opinion on others was the ultimate sin against humanity.
Lately, we are overwhelmed with news of opposing views being silenced in companies, communities and on college campuses around the country. There is a tidal wave of character suppositions based on race, religion, ethnic, gender and political affiliations. In some cases, erroneous and vicious assumptions are made about our associations and transposed on us as individuals. We have become a nation at war with each other defending our faith, family and freedom. Surely, it is a reversal of progress when a society loses, as Maya Angelou said, “the promise of seeing beyond the seeming.”
Diversity is defined as ‘an instance of being composed of differing elements or qualities.’ The value of embracing what is a unique alternative to my own character is immeasurable. It’s not something I consciously consider. Acceptance is woven into my fabric. While the sentiment is still sacred, I have lost appreciation for the actual word ‘diversity.’ It used to represent possibilities, but now, it incites feelings of contained separation and division. To me, the word is generically used to accommodate a forced expectation or to fearfully avoid the accusation of being not unaccepting. It’s reminiscent of when food companies started overusing the words “low fat” to attract buyers. Even products that never had high fat started stamping it on the box!
In Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, “Team of Rivals,” she shares the true story of Abraham Lincoln building his cabinet with men who held opposing views. The premise was that new ideas can never germinate if people isolate themselves from those who disagree.
We all need to embrace the elements and qualities that are different from our own. Acceptance of not only what we see, but how we think is critical to civil evolution and must exist in the workplace, education and communities.