Author’s Note: From time to time, I will introduce you to some of my colleagues and fellow diversity experts by posting their articles within this ezine and on my blog www.LenoraBillingsHarris.com. I hope you will enjoy these different points of view, as I do. This month, Dr. Sondra Thiederman shares her thoughts to help us build Common Ground as well as her tips and techniques. Let me know what you think by adding your comments on the blog.
by Sondra Thiederman, Ph.D.
Treading on Common Ground
No one would deny that diversity and inclusion is a journey. It is a journey from inequity to fairness, from inequality to equality, from injustice to justice.
The journey does, I’d argue, travel another route as well. That is, from an “Us and Them” to an “Us” mentality. This amounts to focusing, not only on how we differ, but also on what we have in common.
Of course we still value diversity. Identifying Common Ground in no way negates the need and ability to honor how we differ. I like to say that valuing diversity and cultivating Common Ground are simply two sides of the same inclusion coin.
How Cultivating Common Ground Helps Reduce Bias
I define bias as, “an inflexible belief about the characteristics of a particular category of people.” Biases are a short hand that we use to think about those who are different from ourselves (“All Asians are good at math”; “All gay men are artistic”).
But, what happens if we find a way to think of that other person, not as a member of a group different from our own, but as someone with whom we have something in common? In other words, as an “Us” rather than a “Them.” The result: Biases begin to fade.
This happens because people tend to see members of other groups as all alike. In essence, we indulge in inflexible beliefs (biases) about “Them” just because they are not “Us.” On the other hand, we see members of our own group as individuals who are different from each other in a variety of ways. So, once we focus on what we have in common as an “Us,” we automatically shed some of our biases.
Any kind of club, volunteer program, or social event at which diverse people mix will do the job. Your workplace is inhabited with human beings who are in some ways different and in some ways alike. It is that proximity that shifts each person’s focus from the differences between them – and the biases they hold – to the Common Ground beneath their feet.