Where I live we place a high value on diversity. Diversity is part of the collective mission that brings my community together. As a sanctuary city from the immigration crackdown by ICE, San Francisco and its surrounding metropolitan areas stand strong in their commitment to diversity. We collectively believe that diversity in its many forms makes us stronger and more creative.
Yet even in this community, it is sometimes easy to miss one kind of diversity that is not very prevalent: diversity of opinion.
It is one thing to accept and connect with people who look different from me. That's easy for me because I don't place a high value on appearance. Rather, I place a high value on thought and ideas. So to me, diversity of appearance comes naturally, although I continue to learn how “not easy” it actually is and how many underlying messages I carry in my own conditioning. But this type of diversity sits comfortably within my own frame of bias.
What about diversity that conflicts with my frame of bias? I remember a discussion on social media last year in which someone I respected described one reason conservatives don’t trust liberals. In this person’s view, liberals are perceived as telling everyone else what to do, and the Bay Area and Silicon Valley are perceived as arrogantly setting standards of living and discourse that others are expected to agree with. I felt like reacting with a strong retort to defend my land. But then I had to ask myself, “Is that true of me?” Yes, it is.
There is a sense I get from living here, that we have figured out the formula for what it means to be on the right side of history. We fight for equity and justice, we think about and try to do something about climate change and the protection of our planet, we try to be open-minded and inclusive from a spiritual perspective. These truths are held so deeply in the people that I interact with that it is a little disconcerting to realize that this may be a limited perspective.
Am I, just like everyone else, holding tight to what I believe to be true? How do I feel about others who disagree with me? How do I actually respond to diversity of perspective?
The importance of thinking from the heart
We deal with diversity of perspective all the time, in fairly benign ways. And I don’t think we deal with it very effectively, on the whole. Whether it is conversations with other parents on the school playground, gatherings with family, or conversations with colleagues at work, our disagreements don’t tend to go super well. I’m not speaking for everyone, of course. Some people and some organizations are good at diplomacy and creating mutual respect. But I count myself in with those of us who find ourselves just a little bit gossipy, complainy, or even righteously judgemental about the things we don’t like in other people.
A friend said to me recently “Nobody knows how to deal with true diversity.” That simple statement struck home for me. True diversity often shows up as interpersonal conflict. If I am unaware of my own biases and preferences, it makes it hard to walk my diversity walk, and instead I am likely to react, argue and condemn. I am likely to be intolerant. This is not a question of values, it is a basic struggle of being human. It is a question of how I choose to approach my life. I think it speaks to the importance of thinking from the heart.
Our culture worships the heart in the form of art, music, sports and entertainment in general. But we have been conditioned to think from the head. By this, I mean that we are not given the tools—or the encouragement—to be connected to each other. We are encouraged to build our own legacy, to live a life of isolation in which we pass our neighbors by without recognition, on our way to a job where we are probably not encouraged to share our authentic selves.
My view of heart-centered living means being committed to connecting with the people in our lives. It stems from heart-centered thinking which means being capable of diversity of opinion. The heart has a unique capacity (that our intellect does not) to understand others who disagree with us. It values feeling over opinion. The heart doesn’t care what you think about something, it cares about your own struggle and how much you can empathize with somebody else’s.
Our common ground is not intellectual
As struggle becomes so prevalent and transparent in our lives, with the advent of climate change and the window into each others’ lives provided by the internet, our heart has a power that our intellect does not. I personally don’t see a way to use reason to understand the diversity of opinion that is a fact in our global community. I don’t think it is possible to reconcile all the various perspectives on how our government should work in order to bring everyone in the United States to collective agreement on our values.
Rather, we can turn to the heart.
No matter how justified my opinion, I think that holding onto my opinions is the easy route. I choose to not take the easy route. In order to find a way through the weeds, it will require letting go of cherished beliefs just long enough to understand how somebody else could hold a differing belief.
The head cannot do this. For instance, I asked someone in conversation recently how we can justify driving as much as we do when the gas in our cars is a limited resource that our children may not have access to in the future. His answer was “While we have it, we should use it.” My brain is like, “How could this person possibly believe that their own immediate need is more important than the ongoing need of future generations?” My head cannot find room to understand his opinion, and I feel angry, judgemental and righteous. I think this leads to an arrogance on my part, a belief that my way is more enlightened than others.
If I truly have an enlightened point of view, I should be able to incorporate this person’s perspective. They are a part of the whole. I may not agree, but I can form a worldview which accounts for and incorporates his experience of the world. Do I really understand the stresses and pressures that guide his decisions?
True diversity asks us to grow
Fighting for what I believe in does not mean clobbering people over the head with my opinion of what is right and wrong. It means reaching out into the hearts of the people I come into contact with and building bridges of mutual understanding. From mutual understanding we develop trust in each other, and we become more available to hear views that challenge our own.
Diversity of opinion is a great hurdle that stems from the basic experience of being human. Whether we are black brown, beige or otherwise, whether we are conservative, progressive or liberal, whether we are Muslim or Christian or Jewish or Hindu or Atheist or worship Mother Earth or otherwise, it can be difficult to deal with people who don’t agree with us.
Yet my experience is that the flow of life leads to experiences which ask us to grow and expand our capacity. Life is asking that we open our hearts to each other and to ourselves, asking us to connect with each others’ struggle rather than react to each others’ story. This can help us embrace true diversity.