Tuesday, June 11, 2013

I'm OK, you're OK

Once upon a time, people did not celebrate diversity. The common wisdom held that we should do exactly the opposite. We stuck with our own kind.

Tribal identity was very important at some point in every culture I've studied. Lineage is something that seems hard wired into humanity. Who were our parents? To whom are we bound by blood? To whom are we bound by karma and spirit? Who are our people?

It probably began as an instinctual behavior rooted in the survival instinct. Instincts are powerful, a lot more powerful than we usually give them credit for. The life force runs hard in us. If food was scarce, if the weather was harsh, once upon a time we humans knew to circle the wagons and shoot at the outsiders, the others. Otherwise we would die. I think this is how prejudice began.

I tried to google my way to the origin of the phrase Celebrate Diversity. I'm guessing it was coined sometime during the 1960s. The idea took hold on a certain level for many. All of a sudden we weren't supposed to harbor prejudices we'd held all our lives, passed down from our parents and families. We were supposed to open our minds, hearts and arms to those different from ourselves.

It seems to me we tried to evolve all of a sudden, to shift from tribal mind to global mind overnight. Snap! We are so ambitious.

I think even for the most fair and open minded among us, there's still an ongoing conflict between the old instinct and the new paradigm. It adds another level of dissonance to our already overblown expectations of ourselves and others. We're supposed to CELEBRATE diversity. Really? Just like that?

Those who are able to recognize inner sexism, homophobia, racism or other isms often feel shame. Others insist they have no prejudice, but then listen to them talk about politics or sports teams - as you can imagine I hear it all the time from Democrats about Republicans. And I have one friend who loves to trash Democrats all the time, too.

For some people, it's about weight. Everyone should weigh a particular amount. Everyone. Even though, if you look around at people, it's easy to see we are made in different sizes and shapes. Still, the weight people harbor tremendous prejudice against the people they consider to be overweight.

I could go on, but I'm sure you get the picture.

Those who think they hold no prejudices at all are not thinking broadly enough, if you ask me.

All the above said, I think diversity is reality in our biosphere and among our species. Learning to respect differences is an evolutionary behavior. It's important work, but it's not easy. It's stressful because it goes against what our lizard brains are telling us.

Why not start by tolerating diversity to whatever degree is possible, move forward from there? Next we could try to respect diversity, and then maybe, some day, we might really be able to celebrate diversity.

If you want to participate in this evolutionary moment, do what you can to open your mind and heart to that which is not in perfect alignment with your beliefs, but not to the point where it makes you anxious, please? Because I think when people try too hard to be "better" - whatever that means - there's a backlash. You can not force this kind of change.

I'm committed to the practice. I have to try, because I think we humans must evolve. Or else.

I find the edge of my diversity tolerance, sit with it. It's humbling and important. When I start wanting to tell someone off for their difference in outlook and opinion, I back slowly away from the edge, integrate and then approach my edge again. In this way I give myself the space I need to change from the inside out. OK, sometimes I snap at those with whom I disagree. But I try not to. It never helps anything.

It's Pride week in Washington DC. I am marveling about how dramatically American culture has shifted in its view of gay people since Stonewall. Incredible! I was never homophobic, hence it's easy for me to celebrate Pride week. I celebrate diversity of sexual preference. Oh yeah.

We are who we are and our instincts are powerful, but we can - and do - evolve in the direction of compassion, kindness and wisdom. Awww, I love our species. I really do.



nerima roberts said...

Oh I remember reading that book I'm okay you're okay back in the day!

Lately I've been reading a lot (maybe too much?) about the migration of people through ancient India. Your words resonate with me because of the tribal behaviors of ancient civilizations. Some tribes preferred to stay isolated; others were more ambitious and determined to claim more territory.

Reya Mellicker said...

I think it was my mother who brought the book to my attention. It was this edition, same cover, etc.