By Maria Morukian
Why do diversity and inclusion initiatives often fall short? Why do some efforts actually increase tension and resistance? How can we prevent “diversity fatigue” that arises when advocates become burnt out from lack of real change?
Part of the struggle to embrace inclusion is that we human beings are not hardwired for it. We instinctively seek safety, stability, and similarity. We protect ourselves from anything we perceive as a threat – to our beliefs, way of life, or sense of self.
Diversity and inclusion initiatives shake things up, asking people to recognize biases and become vulnerable. When people perceive such efforts as an inherent threat to their social status or success, they involuntarily become defensive and disengaged.
Moreover, as mobility and technology have given us more opportunities to be exposed to diversity, ironically we are less empathetic. We’ve become more entrenched in our own views, and gravitate toward those who think, believe, and behave the same way we do.
The missing link to sustainable diversity and inclusion change efforts is expansion.
Expansion is building community across the landscape of our differences. Expansion requires us to explore beyond the comfortable social networks in which we typically reside, where we not only tolerate but actually seek out divergent voices and perspectives, and constantly challenge our own ideologies.
In the dialogues I have facilitated globally on diversity, culture, and identity, I have identified three practices that can encourage expansion.
1) Embrace multiple realities.
Acknowledge that one’s perception of the “truth” is just that: a perception, based on one’s lived experiences.
In September 2019, America in One Room brought together 500 people representing the geographic, demographic, and economic diversity in the United States. Participants engaged in dialogues about polarizing issues like climate change, taxes, healthcare, and foreign policy.
Rather than arguing about who was right on these issues, people opened up and shared personal stories. They disagreed without dehumanizing, listened with compassion, and found common ground. By the end, 95% agreed that they “learned a lot about people very different from me, about what they and their lives are like.”
By embracing multiple realities, we recognize that the “whole” truth is a summation of our stories. We’re looking at an issue through the lens of our lived experiences.
2) Perspective taking.
In his book, The War for Kindness, Jamil Zaki says that when you empathize with someone, “you take on their emotions, decode their thoughts, and worry about their welfare.” That level of empathy takes immense courage because we must care deeply about the wellbeing of the people we see as the “other.”
However, we often find ourselves wanting to “one-up” others when we have stories of being in the “one-down” position. It takes real effort to practice curiosity when we naturally feel compelled to judge, blame, or “what about…?”
In truth, we all have facets of our identity that automatically afford us advantages and disadvantages. Our stories of pain do not preclude any of us from having privilege in certain situations.
3) Emotional ownership.
Our identity conflicts carry powerful emotions: pride, anger, fear, grief. By verbalizing the emotions that drive our stories, others can connect with us.
In her book, Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger, Rebecca Traister says anger at injustice is a fuel for social change, but must be contained:
A necessary accelerant, it can drive…noble and difficult crusades. But it is also combustible, explosive.
Emotional ownership requires us to articulate, but also to manage those emotions so they don’t cloud our ability to take the perspective of others.
Originally posted on Forbes