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I drive a lot. Long commutes in slow traffic result in my listening to a lot of podcasts and audiobooks – but not radio. Years ago, I made the conscious decision to avoid listening to talk radio in the car because it wasn’t adding value. Instead, it left me irritated and disappointed. But last week, I forgot my phone at the office, so I tuned in to a drive-time talk show during my commute.
What I heard left me despondent, especially one comment the shock-jock host proudly made: “Diversity is a weakness, and it leads to a degradation of civic health and community.”
His sad argument was that you can blame all social ills on the lack of homogeneity in our society, on too much diversity in the way we worship, speak, vote, and think. He lamented that so many of us had naively fallen for the false premise that multicultural and racial diversity make the United States better. Phone calls followed from angry people equally disappointed that diversity is celebrated.
I turned off the radio and drove the rest of the way in silence, wondering why people still embrace fear of the “other” and weaponize it. What’s worse? That they’ve somehow converted this misguided sentiment about otherness into an American value? Or that they think calling into a radio show and echoing gloomy sentiments about their dislike for their fellow man passes as communal solidarity?
Next week, we will celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy – one of diversity, inclusion, respect, and civic engagement. On Monday, Jan. 21, more than 300,000 people will march in San Antonio’s 32nd annual MLK March. This signature event is one of the most important ways in which San Antonians come together as a community to reject the ugly proposition that diversity is a weakness.
We come together as families, employers, nonprofits, political leaders, churches, colleges, police officers, firefighters, teachers, active military, veterans, bikers, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, doctors, and neighbors. Every single person who shows up marches to remind the world that our diverse experiences, creeds, beliefs, skills, and perspectives fuel community instead of degrading it.
Sociologists have insisted that tribal communities achieve solidarity and identity only when they identify the imagined threat presented by the “other” who does not share the ideas or traits of the community. These tribes define and differentiate themselves from outsiders by comparing basic traits, such as skin color, ways of worshiping, language, and more. In other words, if someone is somehow different from the homogeneous group membership, the outsider will be denied the opportunities and protections guaranteed by the tribe. And, in turn, the group will insulate itself from change or influences that might threaten the group’s cohesiveness.
This all-too-simple approach may have worked for hunter-and-gatherer tribes from a long-gone era – those who survived by guarding their small collective’s assets and resources by excluding the guy that looks, talks, or worships differently. However, this model has proven to be an ineffective way of managing the complex and stratified societies of today, nor does this homogeneity approach work for any large organization that wishes to succeed, thrive, and produce the best results for its stakeholders.
The idea that inclusion and diversity of backgrounds and ideas will somehow stunt or degenerate a group is betrayed by the proven successes of organizations that embrace the power of inclusiveness. We know for a fact that when large organizations increase their investment in diversity and inclusiveness, they are more likely to see growth in market share. It is not up for debate that top talent is drawn to organizations that promote diverse leadership. Moreover, those team members are more likely to stay.
We know that organizations in all sectors that increase female participation among their leadership will almost always see higher returns for employees and investors. Diversity makes organizations smarter, more innovative, and more resilient. Simply put, diverse and inclusive organizations achieve better results than homogeneous groups. This holds true for cities, states, and countries, too.
Despite this, some San Antonians will still grouse to a radio host about how inclusiveness threatens them and their community. The irony is that these people enjoy the liberties that were secured, in the face of death threats and church bombings, by King and his contemporaries.
They enjoy the safety provided to them by a diverse professional military. They benefit from the protections provided by a diverse San Antonio police force. Their children benefit from meaningful experiences at schools because of diverse faculty. They enjoy the innovative treatments for cancer, diabetes, and other diseases being developed and invented by a diverse biotech industry. And if, God forbid, they ever need to visit our emergency rooms or trauma centers, they’ll be triaged and cared for by a diverse army of San Antonio doctors and nurses from all walks of life. The irony is stunning.
I challenge you to take some time this month to talk to someone about what King did and the values for which he fought. Find a neighbor or a family member who has different ideas than you and talk with them – not to them, but with them. If you think your community merits protection, there is no better way to strengthen it than talking with your fellow man about things that matter.
I assure you that a conversation with your neighbors is much more meaningful and valuable than the one you may have with a radio jockey who is paid to see how much ugliness he can trumpet during your commute to work. Try it. You just might find that the community for which you hunger has been waiting for you to show up.