The Diversity Adventure     

Anyone who has had an adventure experience knows the many challenges and feelings it evokes or provokes. A person has a combination of responses, not always neatly arranged. The experience is not only experiential, it is existential-that is, it exposes and releases different layers and levels of sensation, reaction, and meaning. A person's experience influences his or her state of being, and a person's state of being influences the experience.
Adventure and play involve going to the edge, the boundary, the limit, of a former level of comfort, mastery, or habit, and then being tempted to go further. It means venturing beyond the prior degree of experience, breaking new ground internally as much as externally.
It is impossible for one person to know what another person's adventure zone is until it is manifest-and it is often impossible for a person to know his or her own standard deviations from the norm until they play themselves out. There is a wilderness of potential inside everyone-"all the great adventures are within," as it is said.
And there is another paradox in adventure experience. Everyone has experiences all the time, most of them invisible, unconscious, ineffable. It is not until a person digests experience, assimilates it into the body/mind, that it seems to take on some weight. This transformation is what I call turning raw experience into realized experience. There are many ways of saying the same thing. The mantra is: do it, learn from it, pass it on.
These are the steps for being a dreamweaver, a shapeshifter, a transformer, an educator, coach, counselor, therapist, facilitator, or a self-actualizing person, converting what Joseph Chilton Pearce calls primary process into ideas and actions. Do it, make it yours, pass it on. Something happens to you, you internalize it, then you extrude it, share it, let it spiral out into the world-this is how people build upon their own and each other's learning, otherwise everyone would not only be going in circles, but in the same circles.
Adventurers are familiar with the metabolism of experience, the energy conversion of a life that is processed through intricate human filters. And persistent or professional adventurers are familiar with another phenomenon-different people have different experiences, or perhaps we should say they have experiences differently. Any two people are likely to process their experience in different sequences, or with different emphasis, or one might register something that another doesn't.
It is hard to predict or anticipate going in, beforehand, what you might make of it, or what it might make of you. "Life can only be understood backwards but it must be lived forwards," wrote Soren Kirkegaard. And "Life is not a problem to be solved but a reality to be experienced," wrote Soren Kirkegaard. Or Ortega y Gasset-"Life is fired at us pointblank."
Now we say that people have multiple intelligences, various learning styles, temperaments, personalities, character traits, styles of thinking, ways of knowing, a range of capabilities that may never be tested, much less exhausted. We die before we have explored most of who we are. We make choices and choices choose us and the jigsaw puzzle is never completed because pieces are being created faster than we can jiggle them. It's a metamorphic, kaleidoscopic universe, or as we say now, a nonlinear, chaotic system, and we're both inside and outside of it, depending on whatever your relevant relativity may be in the spacetime continuum. (Isn't that how you see it?)
Each person has multiple identities, we say. Each person, like Walt Whitman, contains multitudes. Each person is a unique configuration which is itself changing. It turns out that each person is actual and virtual. How do we inventory these altered states, these stages and phases and levels of being and doing? And that's true for each person. What happens when we've got more than one? Then things get exponentially more complex. Then we've got combinations and permutations like you wouldn't believe.
And that's diversity. Diversity is the presence and interaction of differences. Diversity is whatever makes someone different-that is to say, unique. I like to talk about diversities, because there are so many of them. Diversity is not restricted to one variable. It is the profusion of variations. So, diversities seems to fit.
Diversity in 1998 is a subject in every discipline. It is a political construct. It is a gyroscope to help anyone navigating through the social environments of the world. That is, whenever we have human ecology, we have diversity. Wherever there are social dimensions or dynamics, there is diversity. Whatever organizational culture you operate in, you are surrounded by diversity.
So, being an adventurer, you get to treat diversity as you do any of your other existential boulder problems. You get to play with it. You get to come to terms with the possibilities, to immerse yourself in new and unknown situations, to rattle around with the implications and ramifications and repercussions. Make no mistake. Diversity is the equivalent of any dilemma story, challenge, game, expedition, you've ever tried. Diversity is your constant companion. Diversity is the closest and farthest frontier.
O.K., take any two or more people. They are not interchangeable. They can surprise each other with mysteries and intimacies that no one of them would encounter alone. They are each other's adventure-in-waiting. How often do we realize this, take advantage of the opportunity to expand and learn in the forcefield, the nearby galaxy, of another person? And if we don't, what is holding us back? And if we don't, what are we missing? And if we don't, how do we explain our isolation in a world of literally billions of missed connections?
And isn't that a reasonable definition of human experience?
Diversity is all around us, but may seem out of reach, out of sight. That's because it's disguised, camouflaged, misleading. Diversity is not what it seems. Diversity has a hidden agenda, a secret mission. And you won't discover its secrets by hearsay, secondhand, at a distance. You've got to go for it and stay open to it.
Your task is to debrief experience and feelings, put them into context and perspective--which means debriefing perceptions and assumptions, which involves a consideration of all the lenses, prisms, filters and blinders that everyone smuggles in their private backpacks. But you can't just go through the motions, no matter how many times you have debriefed people.
You can't appreciate or value diversity until you can experience it, you won't experience it unless someone will reveal or disclose or express it, and they won't do that if you won't let them.
Play that back in reverse: conditions have to allow people to be who they are, and then, if you're paying attention, you will see how they are not the same as you, not like you, they don't have the same outlook or internal process as you, they are put together differently and their path in the world has been different from yours. It's a major miracle that you intersect at all.
But once you do come close enough to connect or collide, some revelations lie in store if either or both of you can let down your guard, break the surface tension, end the masquerade, defy the protocols that confine and suppress your spirits. That's where the laws of play and adventure come in. And you know those laws, you've practiced them-though perhaps not in this realm. Here are a few reminders:
You don't get to tell people who they are-they get to tell you. Diversity is not about Them-it's about us. Diversity is R&D for a world that doesn't yet exist. Diversity is the norm, a law of nature. Diversity is bandwidth. Diversity is inexhaustible-there's always more. Each person is having a differently modulated experience, and the dynamics of a group are a refraction of all the combined variations.
Diversity is always around the corner, ready to ambush you. The thing is, it helps if you're willing to be ambushed. It's like martial arts-you've got to be prepared to redirect the energy. You've got to be flexible, resilient, adaptive enough-and it helps if you've rehearsed it. These are psychological-social muscles that you need to exercise. So the ambush need not be treated as an attack, a threat for which you have to throw up defenses or trigger a flight-or-fight reaction. The diversity ambush is an encounter with another lifeform, hitherto unknown to you. It is your limited experience seeing itself in the mirror. You can freak out. You can lash out or close down. You can handle it in any number of ways. The readiness is all. What kinds and degrees of diversities are you ready for?
Some people have never encountered people with different ideas from their own. Or different color hair, eyes, or skin. Or different height, weight, tone of voice, ways of using tools, moving, eating, dreaming. Some people are morning people, others are night people-different biorhythms, different aesthetics, different families, different logic, different social status. Some people have led, in this terrarium/biosphere of diversities, a rather sheltered life. When they first experience the limits of their experience-well, you know what happens, you see it all the time.
That's where this matter stands, that's where the rubber meets the road-(where the sky meets the sea?) If you don't have a wide range of people in any group or institution you're in, you should be asking, what's keeping them out? But of course, in many ways, you always have a wide range of people in every group you're in. You'd have a wide range of people if you were by yourself, for goodness sakes.
We're on shifting ground here. Hard to find balance, get a grip, feel secure. Hard to articulate it, measure it, put it into a formula. Doing diversity work is not linear. It doesn't matter where you start. If you believe that life experiences are metaphysical, that what goes around comes around, then you know that everything will link up somehow. Or as we say, you've got to trust the process. Then your leap of faith, the adventure mentality, play-state, zen mind, flow, being in the zone, and you know about that, that is familiar territory.
Transpose all of this to the social realm and you have it. What we're dealing with are the politics of labeling people, the perceptions of human qualities, the safety of public disclosure, the ambiguities of identity, the pluralism of the planet. It comes in many forms-different languages, religious traditions, cultural histories, sexual orientations, worldviews, attitudes, beliefs, preconceptions, assumptions. Different, different, different. Different from you, different from each other. It's an occasion to use your full repertoire of trusting, risking, communicating.... Deal with people's fear, trauma, ignorance, pain. Deal with your own. Deal with it. See how simple it is?
Now all we've got to do is keep doing it. Learn from it. Pass it on.

--published in ZipLines, The Voice for Adventure Education,
April 1998, Project Adventure