During my highly visible role as diversity and inclusion director at two Fortune 500 companies, I wrote internal articles read by people across the globe. I also had to make difficult decisions, sometimes with potentially significant financial consequences, for the organization. Following is a major decision I made and the national fallout in one company. That’s followed by a few responses I received in response to internal articles I wrote. Note that topics of sexual orientation or Islam/Muslims seemed to generate these messages to me:
This essay is written to address how we have devolved into a form of idolatry through the proliferation and use of symbols. Symbols are used to evoke a set of behavioral expectations to which we are beholden to subscribe if we are to be deemed acceptable by others. Symbols are all too often the proxies used to substitute for meaningful interaction and relationship. They are designed to reduce fear and risk, but they often mitigate against the courage necessary to relate meaningfully to each other.
For thousands of years, we have lived our lives largely in response to symbols- religious, political, social, natural- to the point today that we substitute symbols for relationship substance. We think because someone wears a cross he must be a Christian or a hijab she must be a Muslim, or emblazon their clothing with the American flag they must be a patriot. Symbols govern our expectations of what to anticipate in the behavior of others but this can be confusing, and often misleading.
Discussion of rank and privilege is not an everyday topic. In fact, it is often avoided and stirs up a multitude of feelings and emotions. It is too often a taboo topic and avoided. We need to discuss this important issue. In one of my speaking engagements on rank and privilege, just before going into the room, I overheard someone say they would not go to that particular discussion because they anticipated it would be too heated. It was not, and it does not have to be.
Have you ever entered a conversation with the best of intentions, only to end up in an argument? I suspect we have all had this experience and I’d like to suggest that one reason this happens so often is because of mind distance. When we try to communicate with people whose experiences and world views are very different from our own, we often run into invisible walls. It’s like trying to describe colors to a friend who has been blind from birth. No matter how much we try to explain what the world looks, sounds, and feels like to us, if the other person’s experiences have been significantly different, they will have trouble listening and understanding. In my work as an interculturalist, I encounter such mind distance on a regular basis.