I was recently asked a question — What do you bring to the table of diversity?
And, what is or might be the value of everyone’s individual contributions?
I was with a group of people who were asked these questions, and I’d like to share some of the responses, and talk about how our bias and prejudice effect our response to different life situations.
-A women born in Brazil and immigrated to the US felt she brings an understanding of the challenges of immigration, the blending of two cultures into her life and understanding what it’s like to live in a country with a corrupt system.
-An elementary school teacher from a military family feels that she brings an understanding of children and their needs as they move to different locations.
-An attorney and teacher works with children from under privileged homes and feels she understands how home life and the lack of parenting affects children.
-Another person lived abroad for many years and values the experience of different cultures that are very similar but separate.
-A member of the LGBT community felt she brings an even temperament and compassion to the table.
-A mental Health Therapist shared that in his experience, people are basically good, not evil.
The shared answers expanded the conversation into an interesting and important insight.
What we bring to the table of diversity also includes our bias and prejudice, and the awareness that bias or prejudice is not necessarily a bad thing.
So, the obvious next question was: How do I expand or see a bias or a prejudice as a strength rather than a weakness?
-There was an overwhelming agreement in the group that the key to overcoming a bias or prejudice was coming to a point of awareness of the issue, and most important its roots.
It’s not possible to not have prejudices. But, it is possible to identify the root cause of why we think or feel fear or negativity with certain people in certain situations. And, once we see ourselves interacting through our bias, we can expand our perception and apply our own experience into a situation or relationship – differently.
But… let’s pause for a moment and take a deep dive into the ocean of awareness. Let’s take a look at our brothers and sisters across the planet.
If the World Were a Village of 100 People
If we could reduce the world’s population to a village of precisely 100 people, with all existing human ratios remaining the same, the demographics would look something like this:
The village would have 61 Asians, 13 Africans, 12 Europeans, 9 Latin Americans, and 5 from the USA and Canada.
50 would be male, 50 would be female
75 would be non-white, 25 white
67 would be non-Christian; 33 would be Christian
80 would live in substandard housing
16 would be unable to read or write
8 people would have access to the Internet
1 would have a college education
48 would live on less than US$ 2 a day
20 would live on less than US$ 1 a day
Lost at Sea
So, let’s imagine that we are on an ocean liner and have to abandon ship. We’ve been put on a life raft with the six people who answered the questions shared at the beginning of this article. After several very difficult days on the high seas, one of our raft mates spots a large land mass. Everyone paddles for hours to reach land. We’re relieved and very thankful when we reach dry land.
After a group discussion, everyone agrees that the group should stay together. So we set off in search of civilization…
And … we arrive and are welcomed into a lovely village by people who are multi-racial, multi-generational, and it appears from different socio-economic backgrounds. Is it a coincidence that the population of the village is exactly 100 people? And, how will our group adapt to these new surroundings and communicate with these people?
Will the person from Brazil relive her experience of integrating into a different culture? Will she embrace her bias of being an outsider and see her experience as an asset rather than relive a painful time in her life? Is she bi-lingual and will she be able to communicate for the group if the need arises?
Will the school teacher find herself feeling like a fish out of water in a new location, or will she recall her childhood travels from one community to another with her military parents? Will she embrace and adapt to this unknown place and circumstance?
Will the Attorney and teacher gravitate to those living in poverty and embrace the village children, knowing that the children might not have the skills to meet and interact with a person from a far-away place.
And what about the person who lived abroad for many years? Will he/she revisit experiences of feeling separate, or embrace the diversity of the village?
Will the gay women see an opportunity to embrace her commonality rather than her differences in a new community?
And finally, will the therapist be threatened by the unknown or allow his neutrality and belief in the goodness of humanity to shine forth.
In my opinion and from my experience, we all have a choice of how we will embrace or reject a new experience and meeting new people that are different from us. Is my brother a guide to peace? Is my brother my guide to pain? Whatever I choose to see, I will embrace.
Back to the Surface – We’ve Been Rescued
I was blessed to recently experience the gathering of people described in this article. Not the Lost at Sea part, but the discussion about being aware of and using our bias and prejudice to embrace diversity.
When it was my turn to answer the question about what I bring to the table – I teared up, and replied; ‘I bring my experience of all of you, and the strength it gives me to transmute my impatience and generational bias into the gift of awareness.’
If we can uncover and access our bias and prejudice, we have the opportunity to see our commonality as human beings, and our willingness to set aside what might be perceived as differences, embracing and sharing through an expanded perception.
In the course of the group discussion, light bulbs were turned on in every person as they realized that the processing of their own challenges could create the road to peace and harmony within and without.
Written for Gaia Scenics’ View
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