In The End of Diversity as We Know It, author Martin Davidson asks three questions to help people and corporations move beyond the differences that can divide us. The questions involve determining how our perceptions of differences affect our behavior; learning about the labeled differences; and finding ways to put the differences to good use.
As Audre Lorde, Amercan poet, teacher, and activist noted: “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” To engage in the three verbs she cites; we have to first, put aside our differences. And those differences exist on many levels.
In the workplace itself, for example, there are people who are both younger and older than we are. People from many different cultures. People with differing political and religious views. People who are wealthier or poorer than us. People whose education background differs from our own. People who are more or less ambitious than we. People whose behavior may seem foreign to us. People who think differently. The list is endless.
But it’s possible to start today to regard others from a “pure mind,” one that has been emptied of long-held views of other people. The Buddhist and Tao religions have a word for this mental emptiness, they call it “Sunvata.” It takes work, but it is possible to put embedded impressions or prejudices aside, if only on a temporary basis. Once you can go into a situation with a cleansed mind, you’ll be in a much better position to develop unity, rather than division, from the differences.
In both work and school settings, it is the unity, after all, that helps group achieve goals. And so, we must learn to appreciate and apply the differences. The effort may be as simple as asking a question like this as a work team or study group faces a challenging assignment: “Who’s good at doing ______?” Give others a chance to display their expertise, and then ask if they’d be willing to take on an assignment that makes use of their special skills.
We can also develop greater appreciation for differences with another simple question: “Could you tell me more about your ___________?” Listen attentively, ask related questions, and then thank the person for sharing a knowledge that is not part of your life experiences to date.
With questions like these, we can “recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences,” as Lorde suggests we do.