In my previous post, I discussed the problem. It is my opinion (it would by a hypothesis if I had the means and training to test it), that much of bullying based on prejudice stems from systemic flaw: A “foreign” element is introduced into an environment that is perceived to be homogenous without the people within the environment having the skills to cope with the disturbance. (This intentionally excludes the harassment and abuse that stems from prejudice, which involves much more violent intentions and, presumably, must stronger feelings and weaker morals.)
Two things stand out to me in this statement. First, it is based on perception. A group is perceived to be homogenous, and the “foreign element” is perceived to not fit within that homogenous group. The reality is that we’re all different. Homogenous groups are a matter of perception, not reality; thus if we change the perception of those individuals within the group and open their minds to the differences that already exist within the seemingly homogenous group, then I expect “new” differences would seem less threatening—after all, they’ve already worked with people who are different, they just were not aware of all the differences. Second, the people within the seemingly homogenous group lack the skills to cope with other differences. I believe both are cultural problems, or problems that have been culturally reinforced.
Rugged Individualism is a standard concept in American culture. We cherish our individuality, or so it’s claimed. But, personally, I’ve never really understood that claim. The American Melting Pot isn’t about difference, but about sameness and integration. While we are a nation of immigrants, those immigrants are expected to conform. The individuals raised in public education are taught to conform. Conformity and homogeneity are prized values that make our social system run; yet, our beliefs in freedom are in direct conflict with those values of conformity and homogeneity. Instead of addressing that conflict and finding a harmonious way to create a nation based on diversity, we convince ourselves we’re “rugged individualists” despite the evidence to the contrary.
Difference is bad. We fight differences. We try to find a way, either by forcing “foreign elements” to change or by tricking ourselves that differences aren’t real. We want to think everyone is the same or should be the same. But equality, the value we espouse, isn’t about sameness; it’s about rights, opportunities and responsibilities.
Recently, Dave Hingsburger addressed a related topic:
Why do I mention disability so much in my workshop? Cause I want to say, ‘but ya are Blanche, ya are!’ Difference, Diversity, Disability ... all part of the vastness of the social world, all part of the vastness of the human experience, all part of the whole community. Difference, Diversity, Disability ... we make community and the community would be less without us. Difference, Diversity, Disability ... we bring with us challenge and demand for change, just like every single other member of every single other community. We are the same in what we want, but we are proudly different of who we are when asking.
We shouldn’t have to hide our differences or whisper about them in dark corners. The differences are real, and we’re all richer for it—if we’d just let ourselves be.
I believe that if we can bring our differences to the conscious level—if we can look at them and see them for what they are—then maybe we could see them without regarding them as a threat. Instead, as a society, we try not to see them. We ignore them whenever and however we can. And when we can’t, we fight them, disparage them, and exclude those who force us to look at them.
We need to be able to deal with differences. We need to be able to see them, to cope with them, to tolerate them, and to accept them. We need to be able to work together—in our communities and in our workplaces—without being threatened by the diversity that is all around us.
And our society—our school systems and our social values—have failed us in this regard. But awareness is rising and changes are demanded from many groups and many sectors. Changes are happening. Diversity training is part of that change. It is, when done effectively, a very important part of that change.
And yet we resist. Because so many of us don’t want to have to change. I mean, why should we change? Really? Can’t he just stop wearing glasses?
For so long, our society has relied on changing those who were different or hiding and excluding those they could not change. But that solution won’t be tolerated any more. Instead, we must brave face our differences and find it within ourselves to embrace them. After all, those differences are in each and every one of us. If we could only let ourselves see them.