I attended last week the EBBF conference in Geneva. The topic of the conference was "beyond diversity". A theme dear to me since I was a child.
I shared my personal stories of what it meant to be born in a "mixed" family and growing up as the only child in my circle, at that time, having double nationality. I was often confronted with the question and request to choose one of the two. A choice I am asked to make still today, in a so called “global economy” world where more and more we depend on other Countries, on foreign ideas, products, influences.
My personal motto is: “There is no way to Inclusion, Inclusion is the way”. This means that we choose the both/and approach rather than the either/or. It means that there is no one idea or privilege that dominates. It requires practice and Integrity. This does not mean seeking for consensus instead it is a collaborative approach, a co-creation of true new ideas which rise from expansive and inclusive approach.
We, all of us, may have different answers to what beyond diversity means and the questions that it requires us to ask. When we refuse to engage with those questions, we are culpable not only of cowardice but of complicity. How can we dismantle that complicity and transmute it into courage? The task of calling things by their true names, of telling the truth to the best of our abilities, of listening to the voices of those who have been silenced, of seeing how all our stories fit together, of using our privilege to undo privilege is each of our tasks. It’s how we make the world more inclusive.
What gets on the way? Bias! Biases often sneak in through the backdoor of our conscience, our good-personhood, and our highest rational convictions, and lodge themselves between us and the world, between our imperfect humanity and our aspirational selves, between who we believe we are and how we behave. Multiple factors make them especially dangerous today. Globalization and technology, extremism, economic upheaval, demographic change, and mass migration have amplified the effects of hidden biases. They once affected only ourselves and those in our vicinity. Today, biases affect people leaving in distant lands and generations yet to be born; subtle biases in faraway minds produce real storms in our lives.
This isn't a judgement rather a compassionate invitation to understand that our flaws make us not bad but human — and offer us the opportunity to be better humans. Extraordinary people are not extraordinary because they are invulnerable to unconscious biases. They are extraordinary because they are aware of their flaws and they choose to do something about them.
Unconscious bias influences our lives like an undercurrent. When the undercurrents aid us, we are unconscious of them. We never credit the undercurrent for carrying us; we credit ourselves, our talents, our skills. These explanations are always partially true. People who fight the current also arrive at false explanations for outcomes. When they fall behind, they blame themselves, their lack of talent. Just as there are always plausible explanations for why some people succeed, there are always plausible explanations for why others do not. If we never change directions, how can we tell there is a current?
One of the most pernicious and prevalent unconscious biases has to do with gender. Just think about our expectations when we meet someone just because we have labelled him as male or her as female. Be honest, when you meet someone do you expect something, or a certain behaviour based on their gender? Most of us — men and women — will never consciously experience the undercurrent of sexism that runs through our world. Those who travel with the current will always feel they are good swimmers; those who swim against the current may never realize they are better swimmers than they imagine. We may have our suspicions, but we cannot know for sure, because most men will never experience life as a woman and most women will never know what it is like to be a man. It is only the transgendered who have the moment of epiphany. The men and women who make this transition experience something that the rest of us do not.
I started uncovering my own biases after crossing oceans and borders seeking for what makes all of us human. During the years of my life I've gone on a constant travel. At first as a means of independence, then to challenge myself and why denying it also to run away from the labels of being always the different one. Travel after travel I came to see it under a different light. The light of discovering others to apprehend myself. Those travels, I now know, have been my teaching for inclusion. Life itself is a travel. The travel to reconnect with a part of me, to fill in the gaps of diversity and to find one world, one humanity that needs to be rescued from separation and ideology. And in the process, I am saved from separation from myself. It is a quest in the unknown and for the unknowing of labels.
My invitation to you is to take an action and peel off labels in search for bridging diversity.