The Importance of Diversity

I recently read this article and thought that it was quite appropos given some of the rhetoric going around in the media recently which is receiving a lot of attention due to the mass shootings and other disturbing events that have recently occurred. 

In the article, the author, Professor Katherine W. Phillips, writes about how "diversity makes us smarter", leads to " firm value" (the worth of a company), increases in creativity and innovation, even makes us "work harder" to come up with better plans and "better scientific research". So why wouldn't we all embrace diversity with the derth of research that shows all of these benefits? Prof. Phillips gives us the answer at the outset of the article: "Research has shown that social diversity in a group can cause discomfort, rougher interactions, a lack of trust, greater perceived interpersonal conflict, lower communication, less cohesion, more concern about disrespect, and other problems."

This is the message that some politicians are today advocating--reducing diversity so that we don't have to feel the "discomfort". They're clinging to the "lack of trust" and "greater perceived interpersonal conflict" part when thinking about diversity. 

So is diversity really worth it? Prof. Phillips likens the "discomfort" that comes from diversity with exercise. Exercise causes some sore muscles, an occasional injury but for the most part, everyone agrees that exercise is necessary for our overall physical (and mental) health. Its worth the risk because the benefit is far greater. 

I have, in the past, written about the benefits of taking an "information vacation" and I'll advocate for that again now, but at the same time, its important not to bury our heads in the sand and ignore all these messages that the media is presenting. It is imperative that we speak up when we hear fear mongering and recognize the agenda of those that are proposing outlandish ways to decrease diversity in this country. When you feel you have a good grasp of the messages that are floating around, then shut the TV off, close up the newspaper, shut off the computer and do something with your friends or family or even by yourself that shows that you're not going to change your life because of the fear that is floating around. Recognize the damaging effects of these messages and intentionally limit your exposure to them so that you don't become overwhelmed by them.

I  had a client recently ask me if, since the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, I'm worried. I answered NO. I do not think that terrorists are going to come barging into my home any more now than I did 20 years ago. I refuse to change my life because of these attacks. I will still do everything I would normally do and I won't even think twice about it. I refuse to succumb to the fear. 

It is not at all surprising that I have had a spike in cases being referred to me for issues dealing with anxiety. Even some of the people I've seen for other issues are talking about the anxiety they feel right now. This is, I believe, due in very large part to the messages that are broadcast many times every day in the media. So, by choosing to change your lifestyle and believe the fear and hatred of diversity and "otherness" you're only going to become more vulnerable to increases in your own level of anxiety.

I try to embrace diversity. I love when I have a client or meet someone that is ethnically or otherwise "different" than I am. I have worked with Hispanic clients, Pacific Islanders, Asians, African Americans, transgender clients, homosexual clients, polyamorous clients, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, and more. Every time I see a client that is "different" than I am, I am instantly more aware that their experience may not be the same as mine.

I distinctly remember my very first client, a young African American woman. She asked me "how can you be my therapist when you don't know what its like to be black?" I answered her honestly then as I do now. I have to think harder and more broadly but I feel that I can be a better therapist when I am forced to do this. I learn more when I interact with a client that is not a caucasian female. Of course I'm not going to be able to have the same experiences as people from other groups but that doesn't mean I can't be helpful. I can seek to understand their experience and take into consideration the differences between us that make us unique. And guess what: our emotions are the same. We all experience fear and anxiety, sadness and depression, grief and loss, frustrations and disappointments, love and hope. These are the things that unite us and that we can use to bring us together and help us through the "discomforts" of our diversity.