In a song called, “Nobody Told Me,” written by John Lennon, part of the chorus is:
Nobody told me there’d be days like these
Strange days indeed
Most peculiar, Mama
Although the song was released posthumously in 1984, its lyrics ring just as true today as when they were written. These are, indeed, strange days. Things are, now more than ever, most peculiar. Instead of making progress in our world with issues such as racism, sexism, and all the other “ism, ism, isms,” we have, in many ways, regressed to a culture that values everyone, but only as long as they are identical to who we are. Diversity is seen in negative connotations now, more than at many times in my life. I am a social psychologist whose education and background includes considerable expertise in the areas of ingroup versus outgroup attitudes and behavior; the pervasively negative impact on being the target of racism, sexism, and other forms of prejudice; the highly negative impact of violence on individuals and society; and much more. I value diversity almost as much as I value freedom. I have many friends who are different from me (not to mention family, most of whom are very different from me, which always provides me a source of entertainment when we spend time together). I do not shun people who are different from me just because their skin color is not the same as mine, or because they worship a different deity from mine, or because they do not share my political views. Instead, I try to listen to their points of view in the hope I might understand why they believe the things they believe. I find it somewhat boring, in fact, to be surrounded by only those people who are similar to me (which is a good thing, given there aren’t too many social psychologists in the world!). There is nothing wrong with valuing diversity and, in my opinion, there is everything wrong with valuing ethnocentrism. What is the worst thing that could happen if you listen to someone else’s views about something or spend time with someone who is different than you? Think about it and be glad we are not all the same.
I’m a middle aged white guy, from a pretty conservative, Baptist, upbringing and part of the world. So, my perspective on diversity might be suspect to some. But, living outside of the USA gave me a perspective that was eye opening. I was the outsider, even in a country where people spoke the same language, well sort of. I was the outsider traveling as a backpacker, a traveler to other countries where I was functionally illiterate because I didn’t speak the language and in a few places where Americans were not warmly welcomed by all. But, never in my young life was I exposed to the extremes of racism, or other isms that kept me from forming friendships with those of other races, religions, etc. My Dad had a good friend who was Jewish in a city where there were few Jewish People. Perhaps that example, among others, rubbed off, given my collection of friends over time. I know the year in Australia, and beyond, was instructive. As was meeting someone who had extreme amounts of knowledge on diversity issues, i.e., Melissa, which gave me much other food for thought. Working for women bosses (as noted in another post, many of my photography clients were women and I had the opportunity of working for a woman university president) gave me more of an education perhaps. Those experiences turned into a humorous anecdote. My only other employer in the realm of trial consulting beyond our firm was a woman. She once complained, when I did not go along with one of her schemes, it was because I must never have worked for a woman. How wrong she was! But, the realization for me it was that it was the woman I was working for who was the problem; it was not that the person I was working for was a woman – I never viewed her ideas through a gender prism. And, it is that way that Melissa and I have approached hiring employees. I don’t care about race, religion, or many other factors that seem to put some people into tizzies. I only care about performance. Some of these hires were good, some bad, but it wasn’t because they were white or black, men or women, or whatever else they might have been. It was because of the person. Some of these hires taught us lessons, but as I’ve learned from Melissa in particular, while stereotypes may contain a kernel of truth, they are more likely to lead to false conclusions than accurate ones. I had hoped we were further along on the understanding of that than we apparently are today.