Thursday, July 17, 2008

How Much Unity?

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

How Much Diversity?

On my birthday morning, my partner Pat told me what she learned about John McCain's and Barak Obama's particular sort of left-handedness. She heard that the way they write, with their hands in a hooked fashion, indicates that they're not concerned with belonging. "That's how you write, too, [as a lefty]," Pat said.

"I'm very concerned with belonging," I protested.

"Then why are you always telling everyone you're a lesbian? That sets you apart from a lot of people" she countered.

Just now, I listened to the report myself and the message was that they were unconcerned with "...blending in," not that they were unconcerned with "...belonging." Either way, Pat had a point. I thought about it all morning at my Conflict Resolution practicum at Teachers College.


How much did I want to stand out? Did individualism trump my need to blend in or belong? Why did I set myself apart from people by so often asserting my Jewish and/or lesbian identity?

At lunch, while waiting for the microwave to finish heating my meal, I told a classmate about my exchange with Pat. The classmate was from another country and said that she related to my dilemma; often she didn't know how X -- where "X" = the adjective for her country -- to be. She wanted to fit in, but felt that one of her most interesting features was missed when she kept her national origin low-key.

On the way home from class, I spoke with my sister Kathy about it and she said, "It's a classic dilemma: unity vs. diversity. It was just in this week's parsha (Torah portion) -- the struggle to be different, yet still to participate in the world."

"That's like 'Al tifrosh meen hatsibur ['Don't isolate yourself from the community,'],'" I said.

"No, that's from Pirkei Avot, and different," Kathy said. Kathy's right. It is different, i.e., it's about not avoiding the larger community, rather than about asserting one's difference from others in the community.

Cultural Intelligence Training

Today at work, our whole team participated in Day 1 of a cultural intelligence training program. The instructor asked what each of us hoped to get out of the course. I said, "I don't think this can happen in the scope of our time together, but I wish I could become totally sophisticated around when to name my difference and when not to do so."

So far, I gleaned one saying from the course that is somehow especially helpful: "Assume difference unless similarity is proven."

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