"Diversity Questions & Answers" is a column that I have written for Managing Diversity, a monthly publication, since it started in 1991.


The first four years of the column are reprinted in my handbook,
How Diversity Works.


Managing Diversity
Leo Patterson, Editor
P.O. Box 819
Jamestown NY 14702
716/665-3654



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2001


 

I write each column a month before the issue date. It is now three weeks after September 11, when hijackers crashed planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I donít know what will happen in the next few weeks before you read this. There has been much talk about how the events of September 11 changed everything. I donít think they changed the central urgency and relevance of what we do, what Iíve been writing about here.
I think weíre all being pressured by history. How many people have lost their jobs or are re-evaluating their work and lives? Those of us who work on issues of diversity, coexistence, reconciliation, conflict prevention, understanding and tolerance, peace and justice, will find our work gives us a firm ground to stand on. This is where the action is for the foreseeable and unforeseeable future. Clash of civilizations? War of the worlds? Global discord, intergroup ignorance, suspicion and fear. We were studying and addressing those questions before September 11.
Now the efficacy of tens of thousands of diversity awareness training sessions is put to the test. This is our performance review. What beneficial effect have we had in all these years? We have seen so many people rise to the challenge of the occasion. We have seen the cumulative effect of humanity shining through fire and smoke, we have heard so many people speaking about the importance of peace and understanding.
Two hours on that Tuesday morning are having enormous ripple effects. What if we called this the next level of diversity awareness training? How are we debriefing it? We need to continue. It is a case study for sensitivity training, for strategic planning, for risk assessment, knowledge management, religious understanding. I canít think of an activity that is not affected. Groups may need us to convene and moderate the discussion, to provide guidelines for interaction, to be facilitators. We have numerous opportunities. We can speak about the interconnectedness of people and cultures. We can help to define patriotism in a new way. We can offer ourselves as resources in forums, classes, religious services, panels, talkshows, to provide alternative ways of thinking and acting. We can assist people to learn and teach about different cultures, religions, nationalities. What have you been doing?
I have written about this as a diversity emergency and a teachable moment. In one fell swoop the importance of our work has been put into stark relief against the horizon. I hear about people who have just realized the truth of being a citizen of the world. We have been practicing this craft for many years. I think groups and institutions need us.
I think we need to help a new generation of people do this work. They are the September 11 generation, whose hearts and minds were opened or turned around in the wake of the airplane crashes. We should take on new volunteers, interns, trainees, and partners. We should reach out to colleagues across occupations, sectors, industries. We need more roundtable discussions, more sharing. I donít think there are trade secrets in the area of human community.
How can we call on each other? Weíre not organized to be cooperative or networked or linked in general, we donít have an alumni association, weíre not exactly a movement with a phone tree of people to mobilize for action or support in a crisis. Maybe we should be.
The people who were killed, injured, and displaced September 11 were from more than 80 countries. They have many millions of family and friends. The shock waves will be felt for a long time.
There is plenty for us to do. People are newly mindful of the fragility of life. The suddenness of events. The value of relationships. The interdependencies of the world.
In the meantime, questions multiply too fast for my usual Q&A format. We need dreams and visions, ideas and music. Not every question has an answer, but itís important to keep asking questions anyway. They are the raw ingredients of our imagination.
We rely on each other, on our energy and courage and determination. Thank you for all you have been doing, are doing, will be doing. Keep in touch.


Bonus Columns: Recommended
Websites
November 1995 January 1996

You can email me with any questions or comments.



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