Let’s get over ourselves, shall we?!?
Diversity is an inherent part of who we are as humans and has been since there were humans.
I’m so tired of reading articles about legislation putting limits on the freedoms of those who are diverse to exist, whether it’s because of race, gender, sexual orientation, ability, or mental health status. Legislation that prevents women from making choices for their own bodies, legislation that prevents young people from getting the care they need, legislation that prevents people from reading books about all types of people and written by all types of people, legislation that prevents people from learning about ALL our complicated history, not just the pretty parts. We are a complicated species living in a complicated world. We need open hearts and open minds to create opportunities that work for everyone in a multitude of places and spaces, not just opportunities that work for some of us.
The facts are clear – none of us exist without something unique going on within us. From a physical standpoint, it’s remarkable how often we come out whole and even if we are not whole, we are still human and enough. The human body is made up of 206 bones, 78 organs, 2, 700 named muscles, and four basic types of tissues and our big, beautiful brain controls it all. The myriad of things that might not work as designed is unlimited and yet still we adapt to function at all types of levels.
I don’t think we truly appreciate the diversity of physical existence until you have spent 100% of your time with a portion of the population. I’ve worked with kids, teens and adults without noses, ears, lips, arms, legs that are shorter, without some of their internal organs, some with organs that should be outside on the inside and vice versa. I’ve worked with kids with heart defects, diabetes, allergies, Some genetic and some from accidents. I’ve worked with people with a myriad of developmental disabilities both cognitive, emotional, and physical from fragile x, Down’s syndrome, ADHD, autism, dyslexia, seizures, and speech difficulties. And some of these folks were amazing kids and people and some of them were jerks, just like us.
I’ve learned that everyone has the capacity to learn, unless you’ve been declared brain dead, albeit at a multitude of different speeds.
I’ve worked with kids with brain injuries, cancer, aids, HIV, osteogenesis imperfecta, Crohn’s, spina bifida, hemophilia, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy and many more. And you may be thinking “isn’t that nice” and while those are both basic and extreme diversities, you and I have them too. You may wear glasses or contacts, have chronic pain, have allergies, eczema, asthma, a bunion, 3 nipples, webbed feet, no hair, too much hair, not be able to smell, use hearing aids, use a mobility device and/or many other combinations of things and you are not alone.
From a mental health standpoint, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) includes over 450 different definitions of mental disorders. I’ve had the pleasure and the challenge of working with youth in a residential treatment center serving kids with addiction disorders, eating disorders, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, depression, anxiety, and psychotic tendencies. Working with 1% of the population 100% of the time gives a different perspective as to what is typical or not. You begin to realize that how we all present is just another version of being human, not good or bad, just different.
While most of the world discriminates for or against people based on the color of their skin, the concept of race is a social construct and not a biological one. According to Scientific American there over 5000 ethnic groups in the world. Humans of all races and ethnicities are worthy of love, living where they would like, access to education, equal rights to vote and equitable rights to healthcare, to name a few.
As far as sexuality goes, there have been heterosexual, homosexual, pansexual, asexual, and bisexual people around forever, we have better ability to put names and express them now. Folks who identify as LGBTQ+ have become more visible and open with their desire live life their own way and to have equal rights to love, live, vote, have access to care, have families, donate blood and travel safely.
And as far as genders are concerned, while there are two physically identifiable ones, those two have presented themselves in a multitude of ways on a continuum throughout different cultures. According to Helpful Professor there are 80 ways to describe gender around the world. While it’s not just about clothes, people have worn all types. Men have dressed similar to women, both for comfort and for entertainment, women have dressed like men for comfort, entertainment and to serve in uniformed occupations and some people choose not to wear clothes. And some cultures dress in genderless fashion. Babies born without a distinguishable gender have been assigned them at birth by hospital committees and sometimes they get it right and sometimes wrong. The point is the humans inside those bodies are the ones who need to make the decision about their gender identity and not society or legislators. The best we can and should do is honor them and be respectful.
All of these differences that make us up are the places that bullies and politicians like to attack and try to make us feel less than or not worthy. Bullies like to focus on groups of people who don’t fit into their idea of the world instead of being curious, seeking understanding and learning a different perspective. We see the attacks in the derogatory words that get used. We see it in the othering. We see it in the legislation that is designed to exclude instead creating equal and equitable rights. We all fit into these categories of diversity whether it's age, ethnicity, race, gender, sexuality, ability, mental health status, or belief systems.
For those of you who think diversity and equity should not be acknowledged, you are kidding yourself. We are all 8 seconds away from our lives being changed through an accident, a tragedy, a heart attack or any number of debilitating crises and joining the 1.8 billion people with a disability (16%) of the world population according to the World Health Organization. Any of us can receive a phone call at any moment that changes our lives. All of us will lose someone we love.
What I’m getting at is true connection, acceptance and engagement with human beings means learning to accept, respect and appreciate people who present and are different than you in all these areas as well as belief systems. No, we are not all ever going to believe things all the same way, so we’ve got to stop trying to change each other and look for ways to find common ground. Yes, it’s challenging, yes, it’s awkward, no it’s not impossible. We are all entitled to be accepted as the unique and amazing humans that we are. We must do better!
It starts with expanding our perceptions and expectations, rather than trying to fit them into our own little boxes of what is acceptable and what isn’t. We all exist differently and that is ok. Instead of asking what is wrong with people, maybe ask “how can I appreciate this person as they are”, stop making assumptions based on outward features, and start appreciating their uniqueness. When we seek to understand, appreciate and connect, our commonalities and respect for difference have an opportunity to rise to the top.