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Human Diversity


People usually think of human diversity in terms of hot button group differences, most of which are rooted in some form of oppression.  These differences are hot due to the pain people have experienced because they belonged to a particular group who was different from the group that hurt them. These hot-button differences include:

  • race
  • nationality
  • culture/ethnicity/subculture
  • gender
  • class (or wealth/poverty)
  • age (especially extreme youth or age)
  • (dis)ability
  • sexual preference
  • religion
  • political party

Unfortunately, the dominance of these hot differences overshadows hundreds of other differences, most of them very individual -- and many of which are far more significant to our ability to generate collective intelligence. These variations include:

  • personality
  • preferences
  • interests
    • what people are interested in
    • the different stakes they have in what's happening
  • needs
  • abilities, skills, capacities
  • perspectives, ways of seeing the world, paradigms
  • ideas
  • feelings, emotions, mood
  • opinions, positions
  • attitudes
  • beliefs
  • assumptions about what's real
  • ego involvements
  • values - assumptions about what's good or important
  • dreams, visions, desires, wishes
  • connections
  • resources
  • habits
  • lifestyles
  • cognitive styles, ways of sensing and knowing the world
  • communication styles
  • stories, histories, myths (both personal and collective/group)
  • experience - capacities developed through life
  • stages of development
  • responses - how they respond to what's going on or what's being talked about
  • tolerance levels
  • physical appearances
  • roles - in society, in the group, in some narrative
  • families - what was their family of origin like
  • education - both formal and informal, past and ongoing
  • information - info they have, and their relationship to information as such
  • health
  • status - in society, in the immediate group or relationship
  • and much, much more.

To the extent that people's differences ARE NOT recognized and truly heard/seen by a group (in their own terms, including the needs and emotions that underly them, so that they know they are truly heard/seen), those differences will manifest as problems, sources of conflict, obstacles in the path, reasons to not participate. This is a big part of what I call co-stupidity (which has nothing to do with the intelligence of the individuals involved, and everything to do with how they function together).

The positive flip side of this principle would be this: To the extent that people's differences ARE recognized and truly heard or seen, they become contributions to the co-evolution of new insights, solutions, activities, experiences, possibiltiies and relationships that enrich a group or community and move it ahead to a fuller realization of the best that it could be. This is a big part of what I call co-intelligence. A relevant inquiry has been posed by Trudy and Peter Johnson-Lenz (who coined the term "groupware"): "How can we use our diversity creatively?"

A lot of "diversity work" is motivated by
a) attempts to preserve the status quo by including minority voices who will quiet their own kind
b) a desire to be fair as long as things don't get too out of hand
c) a distaste for exclusion or repression
d) a recognition that real democracy demands involvement of all stakeholders.

All these approaches have their role, but all fall tragically short of what is possible and needed to really have breakthroughs in our relationships, in our groups, and in our social and environmental issues, so we can co-create environments (big and small) that we all really love living in. The approaches that most excite me are those that are motivated by

e) a recognition that there is collective power and wisdom locked inside our divided diversity which is released when we create deep dialogues and synergies among our diverse perspectives.

So I see our challenge not so much as a matter of ADDRESSING THE ISSUE OF DIVERSITY, as such, but rather as a matter of ENHANCING OUR CAPACITY TO DEAL CREATIVELY WITH DIVERSITY, helping ourselves collectively tap into the incredible richness that awaits us there. This is, of course, an issue that confronts us moment-to-moment whenever we enter into interactions with each other; and so it needs to be addressed constantly, from square one to the finish line -- at least if we wish to turn the problems we have between us into opportunities.

Of course this is not easy. But I believe this realm holds the greatest potential for breakthroughs. A tremendous amount of wisdom, knowhow and methodology exists on this subject already, albeit not as well integrated as we might like. So we all have adventures to undertake to help develop it and weave it together.

For an example of professional work in this area, see Harris Sussman's work.



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