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Diversity: A double edged sword

February 6, 2013

By Dr. Helen Turnbull

We’ve been talking about embracing diversity for years. And yet, I still hear people say they’re tired of talking about it and they long for the day when it will “no longer be an issue.” That reminds me of the Rodney King quote: “Can we all just 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 always 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 delude ourselves into believing that because we “embrace differences” that we are diversity sensitive and free of bias.

People often tell me 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’m not always sure what they really mean, but what I hear in the sub-text of that is that it’s just too difficult for us to deal with the thorny issues and it would be better if we broadened the topic.

So are we going to embrace diversity or wish it would go away? 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 across the entire spectrum of our planet. We forgive people we love for their idiosyncrasies, 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 and not in our inner circle. They become fodder for complaint, contempt, and condescension.

And therein lies the double-edged sword of diversity—“You’re cool if you’re 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’s really about our ability to include people. How can 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. 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’re all territorial and we’re not going to stop being territorial any time soon.

So how about making a New Year’s resolution to widen your circle of inclusion? If we all do that, maybe we can all just get along.

More about Helen

Dr. Helen Turnbull, Ph.D is a panel moderator at Linkage’s Institute for Leading Diversity and Inclusion and the founder and CEO of Human Facets, a global inclusion and diversity consulting firm.


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