I have a problem with the phrase “diversity and inclusion.” I realize that it’s become a catchphrase in academia and industry, and is so entrenched that hardly anyone examines it anymore, and even fewer are willing to problematize it. Questioning this phrase might indicate that one is racist, or favors exclusion.
Ah – see what I did there? Exclusion is the problem. “Inclusion” implies “exclusion.” Furthermore, “inclusion” implies that it’s already somebody’s turf, and they’re willing to let you in. Those in control are willing to open the door for you (perhaps open it just a crack). Being “included” is supposed to make you feel special, as if you’ve passed some kind of test – not as if you belonged there in the first place.
Historically, “inclusion” has been the right term. Those in power might deign to include the powerless. Whites might include non-whites, the wealthy might include those without resources, the young and vital might be willing to include the elderly. Those who ruled the turf chose whether or not to allow outsiders to step onto the turf.
Let’s declare ourselves past that, shall we?
Let us work toward the belief, the deep cultural conviction, that the “turf” belongs to all of us, and that we belong to each other. That nobody owns it, but that we share it. That we must learn to live in community with each other, even when it’s hard. Especially when it’s hard.
Okay, but how? (Easier said than done, right?) It starts with you. It starts with me. As I always tell my students in Intercultural Communication, the only person whose behavior you can control is you. You and I need to have courage. We need to try. We need to be willing to get it wrong, to be willing to embarrass ourselves in our efforts to be better, to do better.
Cultural shifts take a really long time. We can wait till they happen organically (which could be forever, or worse, never), or we can try to drive a cultural shift. We do this by educating ourselves and others, and behaving our way there. It’s difficult, it’s frustrating, and we’re going to fail a lot along the way, but let’s commit to ourselves and each other. Let’s do better, today and every day.
Let’s work on belonging, connecting, and living in community. Be an example for others.
In our culture, we often label people as “unambitious” or “unmotivated,” as if self-will is the only driver of success. And when we speak of structural obstacles, we risk being labeled as “lazy” or “complainers.”
We like to think that everyone has an equal chance in America, that we play on an even field. We like to think our successes are due to our own merit. We often forget that we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, and that we enjoy advantages in some areas of our lives that we didn’t earn by our own effort.
Recognizing our privilege can feel threatening. Compassion can be difficult.
You may have heard the cliché about “pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps.” It’s an old analogy, and the origins aren’t familiar to most people today. It dates back to a time when a person needed assistance in putting on and taking off boots. If you were a peasant, for example a farmer, your boots would have flaps hanging down on each side, that looked rather like puppy-dog ears. You would use these “bootstraps” to pull your boots on, then later you’d use a “boot jack” to take them off.
Bootstraps still exit today in this form (you may have these on some of your own shoes and boots):
“Pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps” means living independently and taking responsibility for yourself, not expecting any assistance from others. It can be a useful idea – as long as we remember that not everyone has boots, let alone bootstraps. The tools for success are not readily available to all of us.
Let’s cultivate compassion today. Let’s remember that we live in community with others.
From the professor’s desk …
I’ve become my dad’s full-time caregiver, and he lives in a small, rural town that is quite isolated from the bustle of life that I’m accustomed to. Things are quiet here, and move slowly. There’s no high-speed internet, no 24-hour stores (the one small grocery store in the village closes at 6 p.m.), and people live their lives at a slow and quiet pace.
And that’s great.
But I’ve noticed something; If you mention something that the locals have not experienced, you’ll often get the response, “Well, I’ve never heard of that.” A popular movie, a fashion trend, a political viewpoint, whatever it might be, the response “Well, I’ve never heard of that” is spoken in a skeptical tone that indicates disbelief. If I’ve never heard of it, then it doesn’t exist.
At times, I’ve been annoyed at this (and tempted to respond with “I’m not lying to you”), but on reflection, I think we all do this, especially when it comes to dealing with social difference.
You say there’s poverty in my city? You say there’s institutionalized racism in my workplace? You tell me my favorite politician is corrupt? “Well, I’ve never heard of that,” and therefore it must not be true. Or, to put it another way, if I haven’t experienced it for myself, then it doesn’t exist.
We all know that’s not true. So what’s the next step? It’s a form of trust.
When someone tells their story, and it’s different from mine, I can start from a place of trust and believe that their experience is authentic. I can believe that their spouse is abusive, or their workplace discriminatory, or they can’t afford food, without experiencing any of those things firsthand. This trust, this belief, is the first step in empathy. If I ever want to be able to put myself in someone else’s shoes, I must begin with accepting their account of their own experience.
Let’s listen to each other with open minds.
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” ~Steve Jobs
From the professor’s desk:
As humans, we like to think that life is linear, and that everything that happens to us is a step in a journey that goes upward and onward. We want our lives to make sense, to have meaning. This quote from Steve Jobs offers us a lot of insights to unpack.
Most of us “connect the dots” as we look backwards over our lives: we tell ourselves, this thing led to that, which led to this other thing. For example, if I hadn’t accepted that job, I wouldn’t have met so-and-so, and we wouldn’t have become a couple; or, if I hadn’t moved to this city, I wouldn’t have lived in this neighborhood, where I made lifelong friends.
Looking backward, we can see the fork in the road, the choices we made, and the consequences of those choices.
It’s important to realize that we are trying to impose order on events that might not have been orderly. We want our lives to have structure; it makes us feel more secure to think that “things happen for a reason.” Randomness is frightening. The idea that the major events in our lives could be meaningless is terrifying.
At the time I accepted my position at WMU, I had another offer. I compared the two schools, the salaries they were offering, the locations, and I decided that I would be happier and more successful at WMU than at the other school. And I AM happy here. But I also tell myself that I wouldn’t have liked living in that other city, that I wouldn’t have had as many opportunities at that other school, that I made the better choice. The truth is, I don’t know how things would have turned out if I’d gone the other direction.
The second part of the quote is also worth a deeper examination. Will the dots “somehow connect” in the future? I think “somehow” is a problematic word here. Whatever choices we make, our minds will impose a pattern on them, and create the connection.
Bottom line: Life is messy and often random. We impose order on the randomness, because it makes us feel more secure, like we’re not adrift on a big, turbulent sea. If we cultivate security and peace within ourselves, we’ll be less disturbed by the randomness of life.