Being Diverse is More than Just Being Different – by Melanie Mayne

Waterbaby—a term I’d never heard before reading Deborah Levine’s book, Inspire Your Inner Global Leader. The word sits right there, on the first page of real text, next to its diverse dictionary definitions. I couldn’t get past it at first—I kept repeating it, over and over in my head. Waterbaby. Waterbaby. I read on, in hopes that I would soon understand. It wasn’t long before I realized that her book is an ocean of honest tales, mixed in with rich, personal history. I wanted to know more about what it meant to master diversity, and I really wanted to know what a waterbaby was. After taking an eager breath, I dove right in, and trust me, it was well worth it.

I was fascinated to learn how Levine grew up on the island of Bermuda. The tales of her childhood involve jumping off of reefs and diving into humungous waves, teaming up with her grandmother to repeatedly beat visiting sailors at poker, participating in Jewish customs, discovering what it meant to be a “Bermuda Jew”, and learning the island’s old-fashioned etiquette. In one of my favorite stories, the author—four years old at the time—and her mother were at Horseshoe Bay when, suddenly, a lost, naked little girl approached them. When her mother tried to console the upset child, little four-year-old Levine informed her that the proper response to public nudity was to pretend that the naked person wasn’t there. After having a good laugh, I found out that much can be learned from this story, which essentially summarizes my experience reading this book. First I was entertained, and then I was enlightened.

I learned the most from the “take-away” sections that come right after each story and explain the not-so-obvious training in diversity. In the “take-away” section that follows the story of the naked little girl, Levine explains that “a global leader is also a diplomat,” and that learning etiquette, respect, and manners are “needed more today than ever.” In the story “The Silent Tattoo,” Levine tells of her 14-year-old self and the curiosity that she felt toward the numbers that were tattooed on fellow Jews. Her mother advised her to “never ask . . . if someone wants to share, they will,” and the only other thing she knew about it was when she heard a Hebrew school teacher whisper about the “Camps.” In one particular instance, she stifled her curiosity as she looked into the eyes of a tattooed Jewish chef “with all the questions [she] couldn’t ask.”

Deborah Levine has a truly unique personal history that is extremely different from my own, and yet, I find a piece of myself in many of its chapters. The story about her curiosity toward the number tattoos brings to mind an occurrence a few years ago when I asked two of my closest relatives about some religious rituals (which they were forbidden to speak about) of their former church. They kept answering with only a “yes” or a “no”. Finally, one of the relatives said, “Can’t you see that we’re not comfortable talking about this?” The logical side of me couldn’t come to terms with the idea that they were afraid of breaking a covenant that they no longer believed in—how contradictory! Levine’s story helped me see that I was forcing my relatives to express emotions that they hadn’t sorted out, and I should have waited for signs that they were ready to talk.

Levine subtly challenged me to think about the people and the events that occurred in my family’s history. The stories were moving and thought-provoking. The process went something like this: I would read a story, which would remind me of one of my own experiences. I would then think about what I could do to improve the outcome of similar situations in the future. Through this process, I was able to learn a lot about myself, as well as expand my knowledge of culture and diversity. Self improvement and cultural awareness aside, this book is definitely entertaining enough to read just for fun, too.

I am inspired to learn more about myself and my family’s history. I now have a better understanding of what it means to be a global leader (and a waterbaby!). Through the author’s stories, I’ve discovered that mastering diversity isn’t just about becoming tolerant of other cultures, or constantly trying to include everyone. It’s about realizing that you are more than just elderly or white or Jewish or a salesperson, discovering the moments and events of your own personal history that crafted you into the individual that you are, and recognizing that this applies to everyone.

I encourage you to read this book, whether you want to expand your audience and reach out to more people, learn more about yourself, or just enjoy a good book, as I did. As Levine puts it in her preface, prepare to be entertained, amazed, and touched on your cultural journey to join the diversity pros and global leaders.

Click here to purchase “Inspire Your Inner Global Leader.”