Diversity: Now I See that I Had it All Wrong

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"Diversity: the art of thinking independently together." Malcolm Forbes

I thought diversity was all about making up for past oppression. I thought it was about giving underprivileged people a break so they could catch up. I thought it was about leveling the playing field. While that may be part of it, I now see diversity in a new light that has changed my life… for the better. This is huge.

What Double Vision Taught Me About the Risk of a False Perspective that Appears Real

I have an unusual problem with my left eye that I first noticed about 30 years ago. After an extensive workup with MRI’s, CT scans, and visits with the neuro-ophthalmologists, they finally determined that I have an inferior rectus palsy. In English, a muscle in my left eye that controls movement doesn’t work right. As a result, if you’re standing to the right of my nose, there is only one of you. When you move to the left, there are two. (By the way, if I don’t enjoy being around you, I may not let you stand to the left there because one of you is enough.)

Back in the day, I used to play handball and racquetball but my eye issue made it a challenge. While my opponent only had to deal with one ball, I had to deal with two. The problem was, one of them wasn’t real. With focus and practice, I could compensate. Eventually, I could hold my own and even win from time to time. 

What I learned was that sometimes what I perceive to be the facts, aren‘t. My distorted view caused me to swing at balls that weren’t there and miss the ones that were. Both looked real. Sometimes I’m wrong.

I discovered that with practice I could improve once I recognized that my view wasn’t always perfect. 

3D Movies and Depth Perception

3D Movies make me flinch when stuff flies out from the screen. My brain screams, “Duck! That sword will take your head off!” Take off the glasses and the movie becomes blurred. Put them back on and the depth perception is phenomenal. It seems like magic. How do they do it? They are sending different images to each eye. Each eye has a unique perspective. When I was a kid they used a red filter for one eye and a blue for the other. These days it is more sophisticated. They use polarized lenses and they polarize the images on the screen. Think of it like Venetian blinds. One eye sees images that are projected through blinds that are horizontal and the other eye through blinds that are vertical. The result: each eye sees a slightly different perspective and experience 3D depth perception. Stereo vision requires two eyes that see from different perspectives. It is impossible to see in 3D with only one eye.

A Man with an Eyepatch Taught Me A Lesson About Depth Perception

During one of my full-day workshops I was talking about depth perception and the importance of having different perspectives. Just like I concluded in the previous paragraph, I boldly stated, “It is impossible to see in 3D with only one eye.” At the break a man with an eye patch came up and said, “You kind of hurt my feelings.” Unbelievably, during a conversation about the importance of diversity, I inadvertently offended someone. We talked over the break and, with his permission, I had him come up for a quick demonstration. I tossed him a ball, and he caught it! Was it possible to have perception with only one eye? Yes, but he had to use a variety of other clues. He struggled, but he could catch the ball. While it is possible to compensate he would agree that depth perception is better with two eyes. 

And yet, many of us settle for only one.

Frankly, I Used to Be Uncomfortable with Different Perspectives

I used to have everything in a box. I thought I knew the answers and therefore didn’t need to listen. I now realize I can’t fully understand something from only one point of view. In 2018, I attended the National Speakers Association annual meeting, and I had a conversation that changed everything. I went to the meeting with a clear intention to be a better listener. I know a lot about speaking but I have much to learn when it comes to listening. While I was at the meeting, one of my friends introduced me to two of her friends: a transgender male and a woman who used to make $300/hr as a dominatrix. They come from a world that differs considerably from mine. Rather than my usual approach of turning away I leaned in and said, “Is it OK if I ask you some questions? There is a lot I don’t understand?” They were gracious enough to say, “Sure, we’re happy to answer your questions.” It was the beginning of a wonderful conversation that lasted hours. I came alongside with a desire to learn and see things from their point of view. I didn't try to change them. I valued and respected their perspective. Not only was it the beginning of a conversation; it was the beginning of a new friendship. One I value tremendously.

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Toward the end of our time together I asked them if I could show them some of my content and get feedback. When I showed them the Thriver’s Model, Kali (the dominatrix) said, “Wow! What a great model. You’ve worked hard to simplify the concepts and make them memorable. You’ve put a lot of work into this! This is… a “great white-guy model”. She had my attention so I said, “Please, help me to understand.” She replied, “Well, if you’re a man and you give just 10% the world responds by saying, ‘He is such a giving man!’ But if you’re a woman and give 110%, everyone shrugs because they expect women to be givers.” Instantly, every cell in my body agreed. I knew she was right. This feedback was absolutely right and tremendously helpful. I would never have seen it on my own because I see with “white-guy” eyes. I now understood my own content better because I have friends that are different from me.

Talk about an epiphany! I realized in that moment that diversity is more than just giving people a break. We actually need each other. Sometimes my perspective is distorted and biased. Sometimes I only have a superficial understanding and don’t realize the depth of the situation. Different perspectives are valuable. If you’re trying to solve a problem and you’re stuck, perhaps it’s time to consider ways to incorporate diversity into your world. You may discover new insights that you can only see with the 3D depth perception that come from different perspectives.