Who’s In Your Box?

I know there is strength in the differences between us. I know there is comfort, where we overlap.

Ani DiFranco

Last year, I attended a two-day course about diversity and mentorship. I won’t go into too much detail because we covered a number of topics but the one topic that stood out for me was about diversity and empathy. The premise was that empathy comes from a place of commonality, the ability to see something in someone that you can relate to. Oftentimes, we defer to the most obvious characteristic which is race or skin color. To drive the point across, we did a really interesting exercise. In the middle of each of our tables was a basket of different colored beads. Each bead color referred to a different race of people—so white for Caucasians, brown for Latinos etc....it’s not a very scientific exercise but you get the point. The facilitator went down a list of relationships/professions and asked each of us to place a bead in our box that corresponded to the race of that person in your life. For example, he would say “place a bead in your box for your dentist” or “place a bead in your box for your best friend” or “place a bead in your box for your neighbor.” He went through a list of about 10-15 relationships and at the end we each had a box of beads.

He then asked us to sit back and reflect on the mix of beads in our box. Is it all one color? Two colors? A rainbow of colors?

Most of us naturally tend to gravitate towards people that look like us—there’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about this point. But this exercise made our connections tangible in a very simplistic and visual manner. People like to talk about diversity in the workplace—there are thousands and thousands of articles and thought pieces on the topic. But what about diversity in our personal lives? In my opinion, it goes hand in hand and can affect how you interact with your co-workers and even potential job candidates.

If you have meaningful relationships with people that are culturally and physically different from you outside of work, the benefit of those relationships will certainly bleed into your work life and add to the richness of your work culture.

Although it was fun to play with, you don’t need a box or beads to recreate this exercise. Making a simple list with pen and paper will give you some insight into how diverse your relationships are and where you can potentially do better if you’re so inclined. Here’s a list you can use:

  • Your ethnicity is...

  • The ethnicity of your significant other is...

  • The ethnicity of your closest friend is...

  • The ethnicity of the people with whom I worship are predominantly…

  • My neighbors (at home) on either side of my house are…

  • My doctor is…

  • My dentist is…

  • My teachers are/were predominantly…

  • My classmates are/were predominantly…

  • The people in my social circle are predominantly…

  • The author of the last book I read was…

  • In the last good movie I saw, the people were predominantly…

  • The people in my favorite TV show are predominantly…

  • During the course of a day, the people with whom I come into contact are predominantly…

  • The person who I most admire or who has had the greatest impact on my life is…

  • The people in my favorite music group or band are predominantly…

  • I know someone with a disability from...

Who’s in your box and are you potentially missing out on unique experiences and perspectives by sticking with the familiar?


Aji

Subscribe To My Newsletter Here

Aji OliyideComment