I wasn’t going to do it. I was going to refrain from opining about the mosque being built near ground zero. As I’ve been watching the news and listening to the debates in my daily interactions on the topic, I keep going back to a statement I wrote in my blog post this past 4th of July: “That individuality is what makes our country so great and what makes it so difficult at times to encompass equality with all of our diversity.” One of the premises on which our nation was founded is the freedom of religious expression. As Emma Lazarus’ quote on the Statue of Liberty so simply says, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Our diversity – in our ethnicity, religious beliefs, social status, and more – is foundational to who we are as the United States of America. I am perplexed by all the debate about whether a mosque should be built when “allowing” one to be built is a fundamental premise on which our country was founded. Instead, I think we should discuss how we can better embrace our differences, learn more about what we don’t know and treat our neighbors as we would like to be treated.
If we started there, we might actually be able to impact peace at a global level – but let’s start in our country. Better yet, let’s start in our own community, schools, churches (and mosques and synagogues and other places of worship) and in our workplaces.
I teach courses on embracing diversity to increase empathy and enhance understanding of the differences we experience in the areas of our personality, gender, culture and generation. It’s truly transformational when teammates who have been working together for years take the time to learn why some people make decisions based on a hunch instead of gathering more facts, question agenda items (or don’t), or consider the impact to people over other factors when making important business decisions. This is just a simple example of embracing diversity on our work teams – and when we do, it can make a tremendous impact on the productivity, collaboration and morale of your team.
When we try to force people to be like us – or have the same beliefs as we have or do things the way we would do them – we limit ourselves and our potential as a collective whole. These restrictions inhibit innovation, learning, and the desire to explore other possibilities. Instead, let’s listen to different viewpoints and ideas. When we do, we’ll expand what we can achieve together instead of being limited by what we can do by ourselves.
We are a strong nation because of our diversity and our differences. How else can we capitalize on these differences? What could you learn about the people closest to you so that you can embrace – and appreciate – their differences? Please post a comment and share with us – we’d love to hear from you!