Monday, September 2, 2013

The Fear of Diversity

In the book The Courage to Teach Parker Palmer speaks to the layers of fear that may exist related to diversity:
This fear of the live encounter is actually a sequence of fears that begins in the fear of diversity.  As long as we inhabit a universe made homogeneous by our refusal to admit otherness, we can maintain the illusion that we possess the truth about ourselves and the world - after all, there is no 'other' to challenge us! But as soon as we admit pluralism, we are forced to admit that ours is not the only standpoint, the only experience, the only way, and the truths we have built our lives on begin to feel fragile.
If we embrace diversity, we find ourselves on the doorsteps of our next fear: fear of the conflict that will ensue when divergent truths meet. Because academic and culture knows only one form of conflict, the win-lose form called competition, we fear the live encounter as a contest from which one party emerges victorious while the other leaves defeated and ashamed. To evade public engagement over our dangerous differences, we privatize them, only to find them growing larger and more divisive. 
If we peel back our fear of conflict, we find a third layer of fear, the fear of losing identity. Many of us are so deeply identified with our ideas that when we have a competitive encounter, we risk losing more than the debate: we risk losing our sense of self."  
In the following TED talk, Kathleen Taylor talks about figuring out who we are so that what we are supposed to do can flow from that.  Perhaps, then it is not so much the fear of losing identity but rather the fear of finding identity that sits at the heart of accepting diversity. Finding our identity creates the responsibility to step away from the crowd and, at first, seems to actually create the condition for dis-belonging rather than belonging. 

Perhaps it is somewhere in our definition of "belonging" that the concept of "inclusion" and "celebrating diversity" get mixed up as we have traditionally defined belonging as being one of the crowd.  This creates the belief that we must conform to the crowd to belong.  It speaks to the idea of the crowd and the environment being static and defined.  In education, it speaks to the factory, compliance driven model that schools have been built on. 
This morning, I came across this response to the question of how schools go from "good" to "great"...
Belonging is not about fitting in and being like everyone else.  It is about valuing.  Valuing our selves. Valuing others. Valuing the community we are a part of.  There is nothing static or defined about a community in which all members authentically belong because that community evolves and is shaped by the unique and changing contribution and needs of each member. 

Kathleen Taylor states that "action and creativity and innovation that comes from true authenticity is what moves the world forward."  She talks about how we each add our own unique contribution to the world.  When we celebrate diversity, we celebrate these contributions.  We celebrate an always evolving world... a world that is perhaps always just a little bit off balance.  We learn how to more deeply relate and connect so we can more deeply understand the world and people around us.  We become aware of the fact that we are not just merely surviving in the world or trying to achieve check marks on our bucket lists but that we are actually agents in the world and are a part of creating the world as it now and as it will be in the future.

Inclusion is not about creating conformity to some pre-defined norm.  It is about creating the circumstance where each individual can come to understand their strength and value and then nurturing it in such a way that it will expand the entire community.  We don't lose our identity when we embrace diversity... we find and are empowered by both our individual and our collective identity. 

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