Jul 3

Understanding Diversity is a Paradoxical Problem (Series 5 of 8)


When faced with a paradox, seemingly self-contradictory statements or propositions, the human mind often struggles. Our minds prefer simple problems and easy solutions. In fact, we often attempt to define problems in ways that allow us to frame them more simply. However, understanding the dynamics of diversity requires us to accept the tension and discomfort that this paradoxical problem presents.

The paradox of diversity begins with two, somewhat contradictory truths.

First; as human beings, we are more alike than we are different…

The vast majority of our genetic make-up as well as our physical, emotional, and social needs are essentially the same for all of us. Emphasizing this truth can make it difficult to accept or appreciate our differences and, when faced with a diversity problem, can prompt us to prefer to focus only on what we have in common. “All this talk about diversity just tends to separate us!” is a phrase I have heard numerous times.

Second; I am a unique human being. No one else in the world is exactly like me. My individual body and personal life experiences make me like no other. My hopes, fears, personality, skills, talents, likes and dislikes all combine to make me one of a kind. Emphasizing this truth can make it difficult to accept or appreciate how our similarities impact us and others. “I reject being labeled or categorized, I am a unique person!” is a phrase I have also heard numerous times.

To complicate things further, there is a third truth underlying the dynamics of diversity. We all have characteristics that we share with some and differentiate us from others. My age, gender, nationality, language, ethnicity, spiritual belief, education, work experience, political leaning, and many other facets of my life, all put me in some groups and exclude me from others. This many faceted spectrum of similarities and differences is central to understanding the dynamics of diversity but, it is in paradoxical opposition to the two earlier statements of truth. My desire to hold on to one or both of the earlier statements, makes it more difficult to accept and explore this third truth.

The ability to hold these seemingly paradoxical truths simultaneously can be challenging and unsettling but it is a key to understanding and working productively through the dynamics of diversity.

Series 5 of 8