By Patricia L. Fitzgerald 2014-06-12 05:52:54
One of the hot movies of Spring 2014, based on an equally hot young adult book series, centers on a dystopian society in which individuals are segregated into factions based on a common, dominant trait. The teenage heroine, however, is discovered to be “divergent,” meaning that she doesn’t conform to any of the given norms. The story follows her attempts to keep her status a secret in a world that fears those who are different and who refuse to stay contained in prescribed little boxes. This is not our world, of course. We are wildly diverse…or divergent, as it were. And yet, many people do struggle to accept those who are different—who look different, speak a different language, are older, are younger, are less-educated, are more “citified,” observe a different faith, have different physical and mental abilities, vote for the “other guy,” work in that department, work full-time, work part-time, have a different opinion and so on. Maybe we fear those differences, maybe we’re suspicious of them. Maybe we’re just more comfortable with what we know. It’s okay to congregate with those who feel familiar and comfortable and share various commonalties with you—just not to the exclusion of those who are different. It’s not okay to make someone feel isolated, belittled or hurt, simply because they are different. This awareness often comes more easily when we are viewing it through the lens of, say, the school cafeteria, observing a student who is shunned or bullied for no other reason than they are seen as being different. Most of us are outraged and seek to intervene. But we may not be similarly aware of how we may be modeling that very behavior in certain interactions with other adults—coworkers, acquaintances, neighbors—in the community. This month, School Nutrition focuses on diversity, asking readers to do a little introspection about how we react when confronted by another’s divergence. We all can do more to embrace the delightful differences that make each of us unique. Because this topic is so…well, diverse, we’re presenting a random collection of 16 statistics, trivia, suggestions, reminders, quotes and short activities to engage you in awakening your diversity consciousness. 1. Individual Activity:Make some lists. Start with the people you know and love, one by one. Create two columns—on the left, write down everything you have in common with the other person. Consider age, appearance, gender, race, education, job, marriage/family status, hobbies, politics, religion and so on. In the right column, write down those areas where the two of you diverge. After you do this exercise for as few as three or four people, you may be surprised to learn that you have less in common with them than you realized, even though these are dear friends or family members. This may help you to overcome a reluctance to reach out to a coworker or acquaintance of whom you know only what’s obviously different. 2. Trivia: You probably aren’t surprised to learn that after English, Spanish is the second most common language spoken in all but a handful of U.S. states. But what is considerably more fascinating is the diversity of third most common languages. According to Census Bureau data, it’s Korean in Virginia and Georgia; Vietnamese in Washington, Texas and Oklahoma; and Chinese in New York. You’ll hear Polish in Illinois, with German in several states as diverse as Montana and Mississippi. With English and Spanish out of the picture, Russian reigns supreme in Oregon, Arabic in Michigan, Hmong in Minnesota and French in West Virginia. Three Native American languages (Navajo, Dakota and Yupik) surpass others in several states, including Alaska and Arizona. Tagalog, a Filipino language, is the third most common not only in Hawaii, but in California and Nevada, too. 3. “I t is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity, there is beauty and there is strength.” — Maya Angelou 4. Reflection: For decades, social science used the “melting pot” metaphor to reflect diversity in America. In this context, people from various cultures come to America and contribute parts of their culture—which are effectively “melted together”—to create a new, unique American culture, one in which immigrants and their children stop acting as they did in their native country, learning English and learning to “blend in.” Today, the “salad bowl” is the new metaphor being applied, as newly arrived immigrants more often retain many of the unique aspects of their native cultures, such as language, foods and holidays. Each of the individual ingredients in a salad retains its distinct flavor and texture, while contributing to a delicious dish. Some say this is the mark of the American culture in the 21st century. What do you think? 5. Reminder: What’s one expression that we all have in common, no matter what language we speak? A smile! 6. “I think…if it’s true that there are as many minds as there are heads, then there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts.” —Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina 7. Reminder: Are you encouraging a diversity of opinion among your team members? Pay attention to the body language dynamic at your next staff meeting. Does everyone get a chance to speak up when you ask for ideas or feedback? Do you only hear from the extroverts? Worse—do you only hear from those who merely echo or affirm your own comments? Make sure you are creating a safe place where a diversity of opinion is always shown respect. You may be surprised by the insights and creativity that will arise when employees are made to feel that their feedback is truly desired. 8. Trivia: There are more than 6,000 languages spoken in the world today—but many are spoken by fewer than a few hundred people. The top 10-12 languages account for the vast majority. 9. Myth-Buster: From a biological standpoint, women are natural parents and men are not, right? Wrong! Yes, women give birth (and lactate) and men do not. But both men and women have the same potential hormonal responses to infants. Human babies are incredibly helpless, and both genders are as likely to provide care, based on individual variation and societal pressures. 10. Group Activity: Try this effective and simple team-building activity that emphasizes individual identity and helps members to understand their coworkers better. Give each participant a piece of paper and ask them to write down four or five moments in their lives that were the most important for shaping who they are today. Ask each person to share two to three of these with the group. Facilitate a discussion on the universality of life events, as you likely will find romance, birth and death will represent a majority of the shared stories. 11. “Christian, Jew, Muslim, shaman, Zoroastrian. Stone, ground, mountain, river. Each has a secret way of being with the mystery, unique and not to be judged.” — Rumi 12. Trivia: The workplace is becoming more ethnically diverse every day. In the United States, the white portion of the working-age population (ages 26 to 64) is on the decline, while the minority portion is rising. In 1982, whites comprised 82% of the work-age population, but are projected to make up only 63% of that total in 2020. 13. Group Activity: Using a whiteboard or bulletin board, start a “web of inclusion.” Ask one team member to note something that makes them unique. Then ask the group if there is anyone with a similar connection to that fact. For example, the first person says: “I was born in Florida.” The next person may say, “I took my kids to Disney World when they were little.” The next person after that may add, “The best family vacations we had with our kids were camping on a lake.” The next person after that may share, “I’ve never swum in a lake, but every summer I do time-keeping for the swim team at our community pool.” Use pushpins and yarn or markers to show the connections that begin to overlap. 14. “Recognize yourself in he and she who are not like you and me.” —Carlos Fuentes 15. Trivia: Born in 1963—then you’re a member of the Baby Boomer Generation, right? Technically, the birthrate explosion that defines this generation didn’t end until 1964. But people who study the generations find that those born in the early Sixties may not share the perspective and values of true Boomers, especially as these characteristics manifest themselves in the workplace. Many late Boomers, who weren’t old enough to be aware of JFK’s assassination or participate in the counterculture shift that marked that decade, tend to identify a bit more with Generation X’ers, often influenced by the same factors. Indeed, all those on the early or late cusp of any generation may have more in common with the adjacent group; some social scientists find that generations overlap by as much as seven to eight years. Keep this in mind when participating in team-building exercises that focus on generational differences. 16. “It is never too late to give up your prejudices.” —Henry David Thoreau Patricia Fitzgerald is editor of School Nutrition. Illustrations by Jiunlimited.com.
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