If you leave home to work in a city, you probably encounter a lot of diversity.
You may see software engineers and retail workers riding the same bus into town. Your colleagues may be from many nations. Lunch at local food trucks promise a vast array of delicious ethnic foods. Various languages you don’t understand are spoken by people all around you.
Diversity seems easy.
But then a quick glance at your closest friends on Facebook or your frequently texted contacts might tell a different story…
It turns out that “going with the flow” boxes us into interacting mostly with people like us. This isn’t necessarily bad, it’s natural–our family and closest friends tend to be like us after all.
So why is diversity important? Specifically, why is relational diversity – not just workplace diversity – so important?
Well, when our exposure to difference and diversity are principally transactional (like only in the context of doing business), we experience negative side effects, like:
- It’s easier to stereotype and judge people.
- It’s easier to get stuck in a self-serving clique.
- We’re ignorant of how our choices and actions affect people outside our circle.
- Life gets kind of boring and we stop growing.
Unfortunately, the journey from transactional to relational diversity is very hard.
You might think some new ethnic restaurant is good because you see long lines and trust county food inspectors. But what if you owned the restaurant and depended on diverse people behind the counter to do right by your customers?
You might visit a doctor who doesn’t speak your language because you mostly trust the medical system. But what if you were the doctor relying on team members that don’t speak your language?
Scale that up to the exponential number of relationships it takes to form a community and it’s pretty clear that diversity is difficult for one reason: Trust.
We have a hard time trusting people who are different from us.
If they were like us, we could empathize with their feelings, understand how they think, what they value and even predict their reactions and behavior. There would be less fear and we could just “be ourselves” around each other.
But if we don’t know much about them, have a hard time communicating and don’t understand how they look at the world, we will have a hard time trusting each other.
This applies to language, culture, gender, politics, socioeconomic status and more. Whenever there are differences between people, trust must be earned through mutual listening, understanding and an ongoing pattern of trustworthiness.
What’s unique about language diversity?
Now you may be thinking, “Yeah, but trust issues affect all of life. What’s unique about language diversity and culture?”
That’s what we’re going to explore in the next two posts.
If we can get “trust” right, it will go a long way in our efforts to build communities that go beyond transactional diversity to the genuine relationships we long for.
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