Allies Embrace the Ambiguity of Diversity
The two most powerful words in Improv are “yes and.” A simple statement that opens up the conversation rather than words like “or,” “but,” or “yet,” words that signal that there’s a right or wrong, a good or bad, no middle ground.
Diversity and inclusion is a middle ground. While there are a number of completely unacceptable behaviors and mindsets in the conversation, more often we’re meeting people where they are at and helping them understand how their actions could be more helpful rather than shaming them for their well-intentioned, yet not helpful behavior.
It’s not Black and White
As much as our brain craves categories, black or white, boy or girl, they are super unhelpful when talking about diversity. We have to stretch our brains to embrace paradox. There’s a gray area. Paradox. There’s room for both in the conversation. For example, many people of color identify as biracial or multi-racial. Many people identify along the gender spectrum, not just simply male or female. The next time your brain wants to put someone in a category, simply take a breath, pause and reflect. Could this be a “yes and” situation?
Desirability & Confirmation Bias
Humans are social creatures. We need each other for survival. That’s why we seek social acceptance. We want to paint ourselves in a line as highly desirable. We want to sugarcoat the positives rather than dig into the murky, messy challenges and real problems. It’s easier to talk about a positive story than a negative one, especially if you or your organization is connected to it.
Our brains also seek out information that’s aligned with what we already know. That’s why we often tune in to news channels that validate our political or social beliefs. We rarely look for information that conflicts with what we think we already know. This is largely in part for survival. It makes it easier on our brain to save energy and time sorting through facts and figures. If we already know something to be true, our brain doesn’t like to rethink it. According to Adam Grant’s research in his book, Think Again, rethinking something two to four times is a sweet spot. It’s not analysis paralysis that yields better decisions or the gut instinct, but a middle ground. A paradox.
The Magic Middle
In most diversity and inclusion studies, 50% of respondents believe in diversity and inclusion, but do not know what to say or do to support diversity and inclusion. This is a huge problem. This is the magic middle. If only we could sway these fence sitters to join the conversation, instead of living in fear of the conversation.
What if we embraced paradox instead? It is likely that people are going to say and do things that are unhelpful as a part of their learning journey. What if we said “yes and” more? What would be possible?
Get comfortable being uncomfortable as an ally. Accept the paradox. Get the magic middle engaged.