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Ruminations on Diversity and Potatoes March 24, 2012

Posted by Edwin Ritter in Behavior.
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They come in all shapes and size and have close to 4000 varieties. They can be fried, chipped, baked, even twice-baked, or whipped, mashed and stuffed.  Even when you think you know them, potatoes surprise you in unexpected ways with how diverse they can be.

A few years ago at a department meeting, we held an interesting exercise in diversity. At the back of the room, spread out on tables were raw potatoes in various shapes and sizes. The exercise was for each of us to grab a spud, look it over carefully, know your potato; slowly examine it then place it back on the table among the other spuds. After a few minutes, everyone was finished. The spuds were then ‘shuffled’ and placed back on the table. The next part of the exercise was to find our potato once again.

How can you pick one apart from the others? They’re just potatoes, after all. What does it matter? Why do I need to remember how to distinguish one from the rest? And, that was the point of the exercise. Accept things as is, not change to suit yourself. I cheated and marked my potato with an imprint. That way, I could distinguish that one from all the others. I knew my potato by my imprint, not by what made it unique.

The same is true with people. They can be as diverse as potatoes. Just as I did, there are people who imprint those who are different from themselves. We’ve all met people like this. They are they ones who assign a nick-name. There was even a recent president who did that a lot. When that happens, they are designating you as something so they can remember you. They slot you in some way that helps them remember you as ‘that’ person. They are in fact, not accepting you for you, as you are.

Dimensions of DiversityWhich brings us to the facets in the diversity wheel. The most common ones include gender, race, age and sexual orientation. But there are other dimensions as well. They include religion, family status, education and income among others. It can also include first and last names. Imprinting is not supportive of diversity. It suggest a closed mind, unwilling to deal with something different.

It was surprising to me that diversity is mostly an issue in the US. In other parts of the world, this is a non-factor. While America is touted as a melting pot, dealing with people different than ourselves can be difficult. While tempting, we can’t treat people like potatoes. No nick-names, no imprint, just different. We need to change and be willing to accept people for who they are, as they are.

Since that meeting, I constantly caution people not  to ‘mark their potato‘. I explain what I mean via a quick recap of the exercise. It certainly has made an imprint on me as that meeting on diversity  was ten years ago. I’ve met a lot people and come across a lot of potatoes since then. Takes work not to imprint. I can accept people as well as potatoes that are the same and are different than me and mine. I ask for the same. No nick-names, no imprints. Accept me and my diversity, whatever shape it’s in.

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