I’ve spent time lately talking about diversity and inclusion from a corporate perspective. Now I want to reflect on the issue from a more personal angle.
I try to live with an open mind, recognizing the bias of my own upbringing while trying to disregard it. I account for and value the varying cultural perspectives I encounter in my daily life. But I also deeply value equality, freedom, and reason.
What do we do when we encounter perspectives which clash with our values? How hard is it to reconcile the ideal of inclusion with the reality that some ideas deserve to be excluded?
Basically, when does “I respect your beliefs” end and “I think you are dangerous” begin?
Taken to its extreme, it’s easy to see where to draw the line. You can believe whatever you want, but when you kill someone else because of their beliefs, I no longer respect your belief.
But extremes are always easy, and rarely interesting. The interesting questions are a lot harder. The example a lot of people are struggling with this summer is as fresh as the headlines: Can you be enthusiastic about the symbolism of China’s “coming out party” in the 2008 Olympics while still holding them accountable for their human rights record?
Can you talk about all religious traditions being equal when some traditions lead directly to reduced rights for women? For gay people? If you value the separation of church and state, how do you respect the beliefs of those who wish to see that distinction blurred? If the belief you are trying to respect is itself exclusionary, how do you wrap your mind around it?
I tend to cope with the issue by looking at as big a picture as I can handle, and then realizing the real picture is even bigger. I remind myself that within that big picture are an uncountable number of individuals who impact the issue or are impacted by it in uncountable ways. I remind myself that I value those individuals and I value the diversity that the complex picture brings to the environment.
But sometimes that isn’t enough.
What do you do? How do you resolve these conflicts?
(And if you think this doesn’t equate to anything in the corporate world, think again. Do a little search on Google and China for a hot example. Or, as a thought experiment, imagine you are choosing someone to serve as a liaison to a Saudi company. Picture the complex questions that enter your mind.)