I want to reframe the narrative I've believed around embracing diversity and inclusion up until very recently in my life.
To cope with my own discomfort in interacting with other people, on a sometimes misanthropic level, but other times just a level of tiredness, feeling judged, feeling manipulated, feeling like I am being vilified for not giving more or demonized for wanting too much, I have hidden away, shied away, disconnected from others. I have struggled with how to regard other people, like ALL other people, all my life. I may even be an fairly extreme example of person who actively avoids diversity, in life. I can only take in so much of other people. And it's not much. I need time with my own mind. We are friends and if we don't have enough time together, sadness ensues. I actually spend a lot of time by myself, and I like it. I need it for my sanity... which is getting stronger, but still fragile some days.
I never thought I'd be someone who would become fascinated by a "cause" like diversity and inclusion, given my lifetime of increasingly avoiding people. But it has appealed to me through this little side door of my psyche where I let logic in. My nature is such that I feel things very intensely. I'm easily overwhelmed by emotion or stress or external stimuli. My heart is nearly always on my sleeve. I get very excited when I have a new idea or something to look forward to. Upsetting things can take me down for days. Jealousy practically ate me alive ever since I first felt the pangs of fear that I might lose someone or some thing that I (most likely didn't even realize) I cherished.
Whether it's nature or nuture, it is my instinct, my first reaction, my gut, my heart, my mind even before a flicker of emotion crosses my notoriously expressive face. It is not the realm from which I can, with any sincerity, try to manifest a logical argument.
Convincing me that diversity and inclusion are a good idea was not an easy feat. On the surface and for the world, I do not question it. I think people should be respectful and get along. There. World fixed! But in practice, I had nothing. The fact is, it came in through appealing to my fondness for efficiency, for reducing waste, for paving the way to optimal output, the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Those are the things that soothe my easily agitated soul. Order and cleanliness. Elegant systems. These things appeal to cooler feelings, calm, sensible behavior, rational judgment.
I heard a podcast that I now cannot seem to track down where the story was about someone who was trying to start up a company, and even with a very small staff, he decided to put diversity and inclusion high on the priority list for who he would bring to the team. As I listened to the story, I heard it as simply, the greater variety of perspectives on a given project - you know, where the participants are otherwise qualified to be on it, the greater the likelihood that the result would be more appropriate for more people. It makes sense.
Having been on some project management, it also sounds like possibly too many cooks in a kitchen. However, managed properly, it could really work. It could be ideal. It could be game changing on an epic scale actually. Isn't it teams of people on projects who end up producing the all things we use, the layouts of cities, software, the food we eat, our medical systems, transit, utilities, military, all of it. Think about those things, those industries, and imagine the power structure. Imagine who is in charge. Do you imagine a middle aged white man with a college education, a wife, a kid or two, a pet, a car and some debt, and probably a little bit of a drinking problem? Imagine not being able to presume. Imagine thinking of those with power as just "people", characteristics unknown.
The next transformative step was watching a video of a talk that Nikki Stevens gave at DrupalCon 2017 in Baltimore. I was there but missed this particular talk in person, 100 Ways to Be An Ally. Luckily there is a slideshow on YouTube. What I heard is that it's not about me. It's not about my prize or my reward or the cessation of my difficult feelings. It's about hearing other people. It's about respecting their experience. It's about realizing you cannot see everything that makes up any person around you. It's about becoming less oblivious to our respective privileges and unintentionally reinforcing systemic oppression.
Yeah, I said it.
In that talk, I got my reward right there. I got the gift of seeing not just marginalized but all other people through this lens. I have literally discounted the existences and experiences of almost all other people I've ever met. It has been a very select few who I've willingly subjected myself to. And these are some great people, my friends are pretty awesome, but they're not the only great people. This is my failing. I have not been open to people because it was too hard. It felt too vulnerable to me to acknowledge that the person I'm irritated with at any given time has a valid life experience too. I don't know why! Why did I turn into this person who dismisses people, almost all people? I lost my curiosity for others. This is why for a couple years now I have thought of dating as the worst possible use of my time.
But now... to be an ally (for myself and just to start) it is to respect people, to be curious about people, because I have been closed off to so many. I am learning. Let me say again in a more florid manner... I am coming out of a social cocoon, trembling, ready to race back to my hidey hole and forget the whole stressy mess if it gets to be too much. But for now, I am opening up and paying attention. With my writing, I'm trying to make sense of all this new-to-me information that's coming in. It is a flood. I have been so utterly clueless. Intentionally clueless because I saw no mechanism with which to be open to others, and because I thought I could shield myself from the problems of this world by pretending they aren't there and don't affect me. I was wrong.
This is a kind of an embarrassing first step, but I have to acknowledge where I'm truly at. To fake like I'm not the reclusive introvert that I am... that's no good. I am just barely looking outward.
The heart is renowned for making terrible decisions. At least mine is. But, now when I talk to people, friends, new acquaintances, or write stuff and put it out in the world, I position my desire to reframe the narrative around advocating for diversity and inclusion as a blessing, a total positive, a great fortune to have many points of view, many experiences to share, many ideas and considerations. I like to frame it this way because, in my experience and opinion, the call for diversity and inclusion has been one of the heart. Be a good person. Do the right thing. I know it's hard and awkward and you're going to embarrass yourself, but you can do it.
I was also sold on the idea as, actually, this benefits me, you, our communities, the people we're interacting with, and the whole damn world. It can be hard, and awkward, and painful at times. Feelings get hurt. It's a tender area with a LOT of baggage. But it's worth it for all of the reasons above. I argue for it with the premise that it is most efficient, most utilitarian, creates an atmosphere for the best ideas to be brought to life, for the best systems to develop to better serve more people because a greater variety of viewpoints are considered.
I appreciate the rewarding feelings, but I don't need my self-esteem shored up by my brave work of ... getting along with people, hearing them, believing them and accepting them. For me, being able to just experience that and not being so painfully and inwardly-focused is a reward in itself.
That said, I get that what appeals to me is not what will appeal to everyone. For some, the motivation will be in being a good person, being a kind person, being someone who is fair and confident in their identity and sense of self such that others' existences do not threaten theirs.
Honestly, whatever it takes. I am someone who can get pretty peeved about inefficiency, so I'm happy for whatever it takes to get people to realize the rewards that are waiting to be had.
It reminds me of the opportunity hiding in the problem... at first, it's strange, scary, uncomfortable. We feel vulnerable and tense. But if we can just get the narrative turned around from, "It's hard awkward painful work you should do and you'll feel better about yourself," to, "It's hard awkward painful work you get to do and there are real, tangible rewards that come with it that benefit everyone." Truly, I look forward to my interactions with other people going forward. I see everything as a chance to pay attention and see what I've been missing.
Maybe this perspective only sells it to me... but I don't think so: