Recognizing Diversity During MLK Day
For almost every year for the last 10 years on MLK Day I have attended a breakfast that the local chamber sponsors honoring Dr. King. This event helps as a reminder that we must continue the goals in diversity for working in unity, loving each other and creating peace among all of us. It is one of the events where the community comes together as diverse individuals in unity, love and peace.
Today the keynote speaker referenced the quote by Dr. King: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” We must stop looking at people as different, not thinking of what separates us, and instead look at what we can do to create harmony. Our goals should be to work better together and be more united. Our goals should be to mesh together our differences to create a friendly, workable environment. Together we can love others for their individuality.
Diversity in the Workplace
When thinking about diversity in the workplace I am reminded of my own experiences. I had worked many years in a male dominant environment with scientists and engineers. My career was in the field of environmental, which for many years did not seem to have much diversity in workers. Yet I was able to hire diversity and create a friendly office environment. I believe my influence with diversity gave me a large advantage compared to other managers. I was raised in a cosmopolitan region in Southeastern Florida. I was used to communication with many different people from different cultural backgrounds from a very young age. I was taught that separate ideas could help create positive change. I never doubted the powerful of diversity in building a great team.
Leadership Through a Letter of Harmony
I worked with a CEO when the company struggled with Chapter 13 Bankruptcy. During his leadership he distributed a very powerful email on harmony. He asked employees to work together, to embrace our differences and embrace change. Some could not get along and moved on. But many were energized with the thought of working as a team that got along. As a company we came together to harness our differences. As a company we created a friendly, workable environment. It was our ability to embrace the differences of our growing diversity along with looking more positively at changes in the economy, technology and the world. I think this ability to work in harmony was a pivotal factor for why were were able to reform into a new company.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
The letter on harmony was importance because of its communication and leadership. Everyone talked about it. And it touched people in ways that drove them to work in unity. Strong companies recognize the amazing results that can happen with synergy. And that letter helped create synergy because it gave us a purpose that had nothing to do with whether we agreed with a person’s belief or not. What mattered was not a belief but the behavior. What mattered was that there was a mutual respect and a willingness to work together for the success of everyone. Working in unity.
Harmony or Conflict at Work?
Our populations are growing not only in business but in our work environments. We will continue to get closer in tighter office spaces with buildings in closer proximity. We will not be able to so easily ignore our associates, our subcontractors and our clients. They may have different beliefs. They may have different ethnicity. They may have different concepts about how to do something. But we must get past the thoughts of “this is how we do it here.” It may be easier to ignore what others think and keep on doing what you are doing. But the problem with ignoring diversity is that ignorance will not get you ahead.
Communication by Listening First
You cannot lead if you do not listen. You cannot lead if you do not recognize that other people’s opinions are not necessarily right or wrong. You lead when you recognize that other people’s opinions are different. And understanding what makes it different can be enlightening. Embrace it and you will see that the fabric is the same. What we want is the same – love, peace and happiness. Unite in the purpose of harmony. Look at ways you can bring your ideas together for a common goal.
“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
We can get along, working in unity. We can respect each other and recognize that it is not about being right or wrong but about thinking about things differently. Think of it as a window where you are looking directly through the glass. Can you pull down the shade and peek through the window at a different angle? If you do you will get a different viewpoint. We must learn to communicate with one another to understand our differences and begin to realize there are other viewpoints.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
When it comes to communication, what are you doing to create harmony with others? Do you try to understand others viewpoints or demand your viewpoint is the only one? Are you a listener or a talker? In Toastmasters I have learned that the best communicators know the importance of listening. Hear what others are saying. Understand that words can be hurtful and that your hurtful words make you look ignorant. Don’t be afraid to inquire why a person views something differently. Be openly interested because you want to know how to get along. This doesn’t mean that you have to change your beliefs. It just means that you can respect that others have different beliefs.
“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
Be willing to step out of your comfort zone. Be willing to learn that differences can be beautiful. Be willing to accept that diversity can be a great thing. You might learn that the best words are those that come first from listening and then from trying to mesh the differences into a common good. Together we can achieve much. Together we can create positive change and move towards a more harmonious future.