Understanding differences and being inclusive is more challenging and complicated than it first appears. Do we really know when we get it right or when we offend? Are we aware when we are holding back and avoiding conversations about differences? Do we really want to know the other person’s story, particularly if it might clash with the story we have in our head? Do we render diverse individuals who become our friends the phenomenological exception and yet still have challenges with their diverse group and does all of this complexity cause us to opt for political correctness and say nothing other than in the presence of close friends with whom we assume an affinity?
For me, learning how to be diversity sensitive and inclusive continues to be a challenging life long journey. It became clear to me many years ago that there is no end point; no short cuts and no time when you can tell yourself your job is done. It feels like Maslow’s Hierarchy – you never quite self-actualize and you can slip back down the ladder. It is part of the process to make mistakes and take some chances in order to reach across the divide of difference and learn about each other. It is important to admit that none of us are perfect human beings and to know that there are moments or days when we just do not have our diversity hat on straight.
When I talk about “learning about each other” I don’t just mean asking someone their name and where they are from. I mean being a curious learner and digging a little deeper – well, maybe not at the first meeting. We need to have the curiosity and the courage to hear each other’s stories; our individual stories and the diverse group related stories that have shaped the experience of our culture and our social identity group membership(s). We need to have an open and receptive heart and not just process the stories through the filters in our head. I have heard people say “Oh, but that happens to me too” when someone tells them a story of injustice. In order to really allow the other person to feel we heard them we need to challenge ourselves not to attempt to level the playing field with our own stories of being a victim, or to minimize the impact on them. The listener feels like you just dismissed the validity of their experience and I have witnessed the pain and resignation on the faces of many people who have had this experience. To arrive at an inclusive culture takes courage and tenacity; we need to leave our egos at the door, admit our vulnerabilities, listen with our heart and not our head, leave our Judge and Jury at home and be willing to unpack the complexities of inclusion.