What is your stance toward difference?

It is a hard thing to measure, but I consider the default stance toward difference one of the key markers of an inclusive organization, team or community.

Think about the team that you are a part of. What is the collective stance or orientation toward difference? When the team is introduced to a person, a practice or a perspective that is new and different from what they already know or do, what is the response?

Is the new way, idea or person viewed as a positive thing, an opportunity — valuable simply because of the difference?

Or.

Or are people confused, resistant, immediately doubtful, or threatened?

Are the phrases “that will never work here” and “that just isn’t how we do things here” common?

Are potential employees passed over because of concerns about “cultural fit”?

Our individual and collective stances toward difference are incredibly important because they inform how we interact with difference when it actually shows up.

An example…
Silicon Valley is still the global capital for innovation, and they want to maintain that role. Toward that end they pay close attention to the ingredients that feed their capacity to innovate. One of the indicators that they monitor and report in their annual Index of Silicon Valley is the number of languages spoken in their community. They see that as a positive thing, something that contributes to the potential of the community.

In many communities, linguistic diversity is not seen as a positive or valuable thing. It is seen as a challenge, a burden or even as offensive by some people. All communities, including Silicon Valley have room for improvement when it comes to the inclusion of difference, but I think there is good likelihood that the Silicon Valley community interacts with this particular kind of difference in a more positive and productive way than communities that are openly resentful of it.

Our stance toward difference informs how we interact with that difference. The character of our interaction informs the outcome. So our general stance toward difference matters greatly.

This might be because of the way we are wired together, but there seems to be a very strong tendency to view difference in general as wrong, deficient, dangerous, or threatening.

This predisposition is another reminder of how we need to be proactive in seeking out and learning about differences — so that we become more comfortable with difference and so that we are able to collect positive and valuable life experiences that can trump our default ideas about difference.

What is your stance toward difference?

Be good to each other.

2
  1. Doug Shaw

    Be good to each other. I like that. For me one of the arts of creating a thriving community is when people can integrate difference without losing it. I guess another way of putting that is – how can we take the best of all of us and make something really special. I can’t live without difference.

  2. Phillip

    “valuable simply because of the difference?”
    It depends on what my goal is. If my goal is to come up with as many different ways as possible, or to meet as many different people as I can, then sure. But what if my goal, or my organization’s goal is more conventional, like maximizing sales, expanding market, increasing shareholder value? If that is the case, then valuing something because it is different is ludicrous. We must value something based on how it helps us accomplish our goals, not on how different or same it is.

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