Tuesday, December 20, 2016

We need to really listen to people and do our history homework before we assume the best way to make the case to them for diversity and inclusion

I just got back from a few-day trip with my parents to Pennsylvania Deutsch Country (yes, I spelled that correctly), where we go for our annual “Huber pilgrimage” to my grandfather’s home town of Lititz. We hang out downtown and observe the Christmas festivities at Granddaddy’s home church, and the Fourth of July festivities in the summer. Since 2014 the trip has also included, of course, a visit to Granddaddy’s grave.

I viewed Lititz a little differently this year, in light of how the current political and religious climate has shifted since December 2015. I was hoping a blog post would come out of my observations, and I ended up with what will be three or four, starting with this one.

If they focused on the politics and religion expressed in Lititz, the reaction of many people I know would be extreme discomfort. Nobody outright slandered the idea of diversity and inclusion, but reluctance to these ideas was occasionally implied. Instead of react with judgment and labels, I decided to really listen so I could understand why.

A few years ago a man tried to sue the borough of Lititz for the political-incorrectness of having a Christian nativity display on the median at the intersection of Main and Broad streets. The problem with this was he didn’t bother to find out that the street median—and still almost half the property in the entire town—was owned by the Moravian church that founded Lititz as a Moravian Christian colony. The man’s case was thus thrown out, and instead of his actions garnering acknowledgment or respect for the point he was trying to make, he was disregarded as an asshole who just wanted to be difficult and anti-Christian.

We don’t win any victories for diversity and inclusion by lashing out at any example we see that seems to be (or is) representative of an exclusionary view or practice—especially if we don’t do our homework first to get an accurate understanding of what we’re really seeing.

Another example of why we shouldn’t try to force diversity and inclusion on anyone who is reluctant about “outsiders” is something I heard from another guest at the bed and breakfast we stayed at. The church’s Christmas lovefeast vigil services used to be for members only, who afterward had the opportunity to tour local houses to view their nativity displays, which they call the “Putz.”

When the services became open to everyone, and more people would tour the Putz displays, homeowners noticed each time that items were missing, which had never happened when the open house was limited to church members. As a result, it was decided that the Putz would only be displayed for the public at the church in regulated presentations, since the members had come to equate the inclusion of non-members of the church—“outsiders” to the Moravian tradition—with home robbery.

We need to bear such stories in mind when it comes to promoting diversity and inclusion to people who have historically been opposed to the idea. We also need to bear in mind that not all such opposition automatically equates with hate-based prejudice or the intentional desire to suppress and marginalize people who are different from them.

While the outcome is just as unacceptable whether it comes from malicious intent or ignorance, the way we choose to approach and seek correction for the problem should be different depending on which of these two motives we’re dealing with.

If we treat ignorant people as intentional bigots, we create a self-fulfilling prophecy. We need to practice enough restraint and patience to identify what mindset we’re dealing with before we act, because we’ve seen far too many examples of our good intentions backfiring and creating bigger problems. We need to set the best example we can for why it would benefit them to let us in, rather than barge in and tell them they are wrong and they have to change.

Even if, after all this, some people still refuse to acknowledge the validity of our argument, this doesn’t mean we have to sink to their level. We fail in our mission if we allow their negative karma to prompt us to destroy our own good karma.

Image: “Lititz Moravian Church steeple” by Karla Joy Huber, 2007; Prismacolor marker and Sharpie marker

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