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Diverse coworkers working together on a project

Dissolving Separation In the Workplace

The Diversity Challenge

Most cultures indoctrinate their youth with a sense of nationalism and loyalty— to congregate, relate to, and trust only “their own kind.” Throughout history, marrying someone outside of one’s own cultural or racial heritage was unthinkable. Even today, the act of cross-cultural or multiracial marriage is more often taboo than widely acceptable.

In times when humans lived more closely to nature, “strangers” (people who appeared or sounded different from themselves) posed a definite threat to individuals and, in many cases, a threat to the group as a whole. Over centuries, even millennia, humans have sought to protect themselves from the threat of outsiders by “sticking together,” “keeping to their own kind,” and keeping strangers “at a distance.” When we separate ourselves in these ways, it becomes second nature to project “danger” or “enemy-images” onto people with unfamiliar characteristics.

No wonder it so hard for us in today’s world to be free of our often judgmental and fearful reactions towards those who are different from us or unfamiliar. In many ways, they are deeply embedded into our unconscious mind. They are both visceral and instinctual. and biases

One thing that can help here is to have an honest review of the biases and prejudices that you are currently holding. The list of questions below will be instrumental in helping you bring old beliefs, biases, and conditioned responses up and out from your unconscious mind.

The following questions are designed to help you become aware, and even mindful, of your conditioned-self and your instinctual reactions to people with differences.

Objectify your Fears

As awareness and mindfulness begin to develop inside of you, and you become more and more conscious of your automated responses to people who are different, you will naturally nurture your equally innate ability to “contain” your instinctual reactions. Like a vase holding water, you can contain those feelings, emotions and behaviors within yourself. You can observe them inside yourself, without acting them out. Ironically, this too is part of self-preservation.

Once you realize that diversity is a fact, then you will be able to choose how you want to respond to someone, ideally (and hopefully) with kindness and respect. This is the direction where “diversity awareness” takes us. It is diametrically opposed to keeping us chained to our automatic, habitual responses- which more commonly elicit hurt for others, and ultimately ourselves.

Here is an important tool: no need to feel guilty about having these auto-responders full of fear and judgment. We all have them: deep-seeded conditions and instinctual fears every time we experience someone or something unfamiliar. The important thing is that we strive to be aware, to mature, and to learn to hold our visceral reactivity inside of ourselves, transforming and transmuting our primitive brains into the evolved souls we also instinctively have within us.

As I tell the kids in my anti-bullying classes in elementary schools, it’s not really about being polite or even kind to others. The bottom line is that we get to choose how we make others feel. We can either make them feel sad and hurt, or we can make them feel happy and glad.

Mindfulness is key! Through this practice, we really can overcome our ancient wiring. We can choose!

Let’s Just See

So now the questions. First, think about a group of people that you feel are a “problem” for you. Then, ask yourself:

What kinds of differences in this group make me feel the most uncomfortable?

When I think of this group, what do I notice? What happens inside my body? Am I tense? Am I queasy? What happens with my mind? Am I angry? Am I frightened?

How old was I when I started holding this feeling about this group of people?

Where did I learn it? And from whom? Where did they learn it?

Are the people in this group currently threatening me in some way?

If so, how and to what degree?

How would I rate (1 to 10, 10 being the highest) the level of objective threat I feel from this group in my current life or work situation? ______

Can I identify my unconscious fears about this group, even if these fears are so deeply embedded inside me, that I don’t recognize them as beliefs, convictions, or biases?

How can I update my beliefs to match the environment I now find myself?

What’s one thing I can do to lower my reactivity to this group?

After you’ve finished answering this list of questions for this one particular group, you might find that it is easier to move on to another group that you hold biases towards. Start again with the first question, “What kind of differences in others also makes me uncomfortable?” and proceed through the list.

Take mental or written note of what you become aware of. Go through the list as many times as you wish. When completing it, share what you find out about yourself with a close friend, or write about it to yourself in your journal.

Remember! There’s no shame or criticism towards people who hold biases. In fact, shaming yourself for having biases is the same as shaming others for being different! The only “wrongdoing” is holding on to outdated modes of functioning and interacting, and relating to yourself or others in ways that are no longer “real,” supportive, helpful, or useful in our modern-day global-community.

Answering these questions honestly will provide you with increased awareness about your conditioning and increased capacity for changing how you react to people with differences. With this awareness, you can begin to conscientiously create changes in your behaviors, and respond to people in the “present,” rather than reacting to past conditioning. This holds true for personal relationships as well.