Monday, July 21, 2014

Give Yourself the Gift of Difference

It's understandable why we thought the world was flat.
Trouble is brewing in the science world. Don’t worry, experts still agree the Earth is round. However, a growing list of neuroscientists in Europe are poo-pooing the ambitious undertaking known as the Human Brain Project (HBP). HBP is bankrolled by the European Union and the goal is to recreate the functioning of the human brain using supercomputers.

What does this work have to do with average Joes like us who go to work every day and live regular lives? More than you think, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

According to news reports, more than 150 European scientists penned an open letter to the European Commission (the executive body of the European Union). They are threatening to boycott the HBP project.

The letter bears a series of suggestions for project improvement. They come in the form of seven bullet points. At the top of the list is concern about who is involved (or rather, who isn’t):

“The panel should be composed of highly regarded members of the scientific community whose views reflect the diversity of approaches within neuroscience.”

One bad apple? Or a fruitful start toward greater diversity?
The key word in that initial bullet point is “diversity.” That’s important for a lot of reasons, beyond what’s happening with HBP.

An all too familiar misstep that saps the strength and hamstrings the growth of any community – not just the science realm – is to marginalize the value of diversity in planning. What’s equally bad is to deny diversity in participation. Yet that’s what happens time and again when it comes to leveraging a diversity of professional relationships on the job. It can be similarly so when it comes to tapping into diverse human resources long after we’ve punched out for the day.

The sad truth is that too many of us fail to realize the incredible assets available to us by not maintaining diversity in our personal tool chests. Yes, I’m guilty of it.
             Similarity and difference; it’s the nature of the universe. From falling snowflakes to interplanetary star systems, no two are alike. Yet among each group they share close comparison. The same is true when it comes to human beings.

Don’t think an unsighted person can teach anything to a sighted person? One way might be how to use your other four senses to take richer stock of an environment – even in broad daylight.

What can a poor person teach someone who’s rich? Maybe uncanny resourcefulness to survive, despite not having the privilege of an advanced education, a sufficient bank account or friends in high places.

What's wrong with this person? Absolutely nothing!
What can a gay couple teach a straight one about family systems? Perhaps a number of nontraditional ways coupling can effectively operate and be equally happy – and in many cases more so.

What can a person of color teach someone white? For one, how it feels to be enmeshed in a systematically repressive society (many claim doesn’t even exist) yet still function with grace and compassion with the oppressor.

Each of these examples feature non-dominant or marginalized groups doing the teaching and that was intentional. But the reverse is equally true; learning happens both ways. One “merely” has to reach out and dare to create new relationships. Start with those with whom you highly regard, but make the interaction personal and your motives transparent.
Diversity is about so much more than color
Initial attempts will be uncomfortable. This is normal. Just study history. It was equally the case when the first scientists produced undeniable evidence the Earth wasn’t flat. Then as now, the discomfort will pass. What will be left? New perspectives holding limitless possibilities.

So do yourself a favor: give yourself the gift of difference in your relationships. You’ll be better for it, in more ways than one.

Follow J.R. on Twitter @4humansbeing or contact him at

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