Posted by: Brad Stanford | May 5, 2017

Diversity Is Not What You Think

I’m a sucker for shows about bands from my high-school years, like VH1 Behind The Music, because I’m wired to love truth. While growing up, it was easy to look at any in-the-spotlight person or organization and think that they were examples of “making it big”. What “making it big” really meant was “having no problems”. Naturally, we aspire to have no problems, so we’re interested in people who seem to have pulled it off.

But the behind-the-scenes shows reveal all the problems that a given band or performer was going through, even while their marketing said otherwise. If there were problems, we were told, they were elite-level difficulties that arise when you have plenty of money, fame, and power. The truth, as I have mentioned before, would later be songified by The Notorious B.I.G: “Mo Money, Mo Problems”.

The 80s in America convinced an entire generation of the New American Dream. The Old American Dream was that if you worked hard, you could have a nice life with a retirement package. The New (or Morphed) American Dream was that if you hit it big – be it rock star or CEO – you could live the retirement life all the time, even while working. And if you couldn’t hit it big, you would at least attain some sort if independent lifestyle with the associated less problems/more freedom that supposedly comes with financial stability.

It was a good idea at the time. If you had projected the American path in the 80s based on business history and technology growth, it seemed reasonable that we were poised for a great lifestyle breakthrough. My grandparents had it easier than my great-grandparents. My parents had it easier than my grandparents. It seemed we were going to continue in that direction. But that’s not how it works. What goes up must come down.

It is true that technology continued its upward trend. And while slowing a bit, technological advances are still amazing me every day. I imagine this is how it felt when the industrial revolution hit America, bringing factories, new machines, airplanes, radios, and cars. Every once-in-awhile when looking at something on my phone with my kids, I’ll stop and tell them, “Do you realize that we’re watching a video clip on a device in my hand like it’s Star Trek or something? Do you realize that I’m holding more computing power in my hand than the entire computing power of all the 60s space missions combined? Isn’t that wild?” And it really is.

But something has happened to us along the way. The original American Dream included that bit about hard work. I’ve noticed that part of the “dream” is either no longer included, or over-included. People are either looking for a way not to work, or think that if they can get just one more hour of work in, that the extra will help them climb out of whatever situation they find themselves in.

What happened to us is that we’ve lost self-awareness in a really dangerous way.

A person in danger usually yells something like, “Help me!”, because they understand the position they’re in. They don’t deny it, they own it. The opposite is true for someone trying to be something that they’re not. They deny everything wrong with themselves, and expect everything to work out anyway.

Here’s how this works: when I’m at fault, and I’m honest about it, the conversation immediately changes from “How did that happen?” to “What do we do next?”. Owning one’s errors, faults, and quirks keeps things moving along smoothly. Denial locks us into fault-finding and justice-seeking. That has ended poorly in general.

Humility allows us to own our faults (or annoying uniquenesses, to coin a phrase), so we can prevent conflict. Any time you see conflict, there is a lack of self-awareness on someone’s part.

When I own my talkativeness, I don’t get offended when someone tells me I talk too much. I can agree with them, because I know that my acceptable word count is different – diverse – than others.

But if I don’t own who I am and control it, I have to find a way to make everyone else accept it.

Let that sink in.

When you don’t own who you are, you’re forced to defend yourself because your identity is wrapped up in an idea about yourself, and not in truth. You’re having to protect that image you have of yourself, lest someone pop that bubble with truth. So you’ll deflect both fault and truth to maintain a false narrative about yourself.

Being true to ourselves is appreciating diversity at the most fundamental level. This does not mean being immune to criticism because “That’s just who I am…deal with it!” True appreciation of diversity is when you understand that you’re not normal. Understanding that your reality is yours alone gives you the humility to adjust yourself the sake of others where possible.

To you, I may talk too much. To me, you talk too little. Isn’t that diverse? Who’s right – you or me? Or does it matter who’s right? If I understand that, in general, I tend to use more words than most people, then I have the freedom to think of others needs before my own and throttle myself as necessary. (I’m not great at that – just sayin’.)

If you can’t appreciate your own deviation from whatever “normal” you aspire (or imagine yourself) to be, you really don’t appreciate diversity. Making everyone else conform to your definitions of how life should run is not diversity. Crying “Foul!” when your feelings get hurt is not diversity. Safe spaces are not about safety but protecting lies, and killing diversity. But we “defend” diversity loudly, to the point of making everyone conform to our definition of it.Like an 80s band, we have a great image, but little else.

Diversity is normal. Trying to get everyone on the diversity bandwagon is similar to trying to get everyone to rally around gravity. What we need to pursue is humility about our perceived abnormalities. Owning our strengths, quirks, and faults exposes the true problems to be solved, and let’s us get on with it. Anything else is simply defending a lie that helps us sleep at night.You can keep doing what you’ve been doing, and keep getting what you’ve been getting. Or, you can do the hard work of being self-aware and humble. A simple, but difficult, choice.

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