Awakening to Diversity
I think about the first ELT (English Language Training) class I taught at ISSofBC 25 years ago and recall the diversity of personalities and ethnicities in detail that delights me:
4 resourceful, tough, and playful Vietnamese young adults who had spent too much of their lives in a refugee camp
a Somalian woman I helped perhaps more than she needed because of the sort of spell her grace and beauty put on me
a demanding yet appreciative Polish couple who held us all accountable
a nurturing women from Iran who took more pride in her motherhood than I have seen anyone do so
a Croatian man and Bosnian couple, utterly shell shocked and equally determined to rebuild their lives
a generous Taiwanese woman who was perplexed but ultimately accepting of the fact that I couldn’t accept her gift of $200 at Chinese New Year
an impossibly young and loving couple from El Salvador who had two small children in the childcare
an elderly man from Hong Kong who took us all for Dim Sum.
I felt graced by the courage, determination, grit, pride, resourcefulness, love, joy and appreciation of this group, and a piece of my heart was forever given to those like them who, by choice or through terror, are making Canada their new home.
Understanding Diversity as an Imperative
Their faces, names and countries of origin have changed over the years, as have the roles I have played in their settlement journey. And I continue to be inspired by newcomers and find optimism in the skills, experiences and mindset they bring to learning spaces, workplaces and communities. In the face of the myriad of challenges we are facing globally, as Canadians, and within our communities, I know I am not alone in recognizing the need to address problems differently. It seems to me we would want to engage a very diverse range of resources and skills, and that those very qualities of newcomers are very much needed in finding solutions.
I have recently completed a certificate in Social Innovation at SFU. Among the many compelling and optimistic ideas, people, frameworks, strategies and resources I was introduced to over the 8 months, I very much appreciated Donella Meadow’s article Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System and her reference to diversity as an imperative: “Human culture is the stock of social evolution, and insistence on a single culture shuts down learning and weakens resilience; any system that cannot self-evolve is doomed.”
Learning to Embrace Diversity in its Wholeness
I think the vast majority of people living in multicultural cities like Vancouver have long-appreciated the richness derived from diversity in terms of the food, art, literature, celebrations and other aspects of community life. The economic benefits of immigration in terms of trade, investment and employment are recognized, and I’m encouraged when I see more mainstream attention being drawn to them. This Portraits 150 video shows how Shopify, a leading cloud-based commerce platform for small and medium businesses, brings out the best and most unique ideas from the collective effort of people from a broad range of cultures and backgrounds.
Looking back, I recognize my naivety in the simple delight I found in the openness, courage, grace and gratitude I first found in my early teaching experiences. And while I have a better understanding of the profound benefits derived from a broad range of perspectives and experience, I still have to remind myself to stay open to different ways of thinking, working and being. I wonder if my capacity to do this is limited by my conservative, Caucasian-infused up-bringing. Or maybe it’s that, for any of us, a commitment to growth and understanding in a complex, changing environment means a continual letting of go of things that we thought we knew. It’s a humbling journey.
I continue to find meaning and purpose working with newcomers in finding their way into satisfying and participatory lives in Canada, but this is becoming less about the feeling I can make a positive difference in the lives of immigrants, and more about knowing they can – and do – make a difference in the lives of all Canadians. For me, this represents a bright beacon of optimism and hope, lighting a path as we as a society seek ways to move forward together, each drawing on our uniqueness and best selves, and exploring and supporting the strengths to be found in our diversity.
Please share your thoughts and experiences about diversity by replying to this post or sending a note through my Contact page. Please also feel free to repost.