22 Feb. 2016 | Comments (1)
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Many are acquainted with the touching, beneficial outcomes of the It Gets Better Project, an initiative designed to inspire hope in young people who are bullied, unaccepted, or excluded because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. One reaction to this initiative is to appreciate the hopeful line of sight into a better future. A parallel reaction, however, is that the present should be better, too. Why must LGBT youths wait until adulthood for a better future instead of having the opportunity for a better life right now? It gets better promises distant value. It is better creates value today.
This same dynamic applies to others at all ages who are marginal to the majority. Women, racial and ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, aboriginal and immigrant populations, and others who care about inclusion are told to be heartened by the positive, yet suboptimal advancements in D&I over the past several decades. At the same time, they are told to be patient for a completely fulfilling change that many insist will necessarily take generations to realize. As US Civil Rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., potently explained from Birmingham’s jail:
Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never.
A call for patience on matters of inclusion is antithetical to how we operate other elements of our businesses and other institutions. When there is a problem with safety, quality, or revenue, we do not accept that we must be patient while we take a few generations to effect change. Business leaders and their customers, investors, employees, and regulators simply would not accept that. Why are standards different when we talk about including and benefiting from the full talents, skills, and ideas of a broad diversity of people working to make a meaningful contribution in our organizations?
We can take inspiration from King’s proclamation that while “The arc of the moral universe is long […] it bends towards justice.” But Ta-Nehisi Coates, Atlantic correspondent and author of the remarkable book, Between the World and Me, reminds us to not forget the individual lives, especially those whose arc ends in injustice. In a conversation on the New Yorker Radio Hour, Coates explained:
[If you] were somebody who was taken to Auschwitz and killed, your arc ended right there; you died. It didn’t bend toward justice. It bent towards injustice. The arc of your particular history ended right there. Eric Garner’s arc ended [on that] concrete when he was choked out on that street…Some people say, ‘I mean the bigger sense’, but I think you have to be profoundly respectful for that individual. That individual is not going to be around to see that bigger sense.
Progress is not inevitable, Coates reminds us, and success deferred is not achieved.
Similarly, James Baldwin, the great American essayist and novelist, powerfully illustrated this point. He implored us to consider how defenses of sluggish change and calls for patience in reaching a distant future feel to those who have only the present:
What is it you want me to reconcile myself to? I was born here almost sixty years ago. I'm not going to live another sixty years. You always told me it takes time. It has taken my father's time, my mother's time. My uncle's time. My brother's and sister's time. My niece's and my nephew's time. How much time do you want for your...'progress'?
How many millions of individuals won’t be alive to see the realization of the bigger arc if we do not create change now? Will you be around to experience it?
The Senegal-based NGO, Tostan powerfully demonstrates a practical approach to achieving generational change for human rights within 3 years, even in the face of complex challenges and slow historical change. Like Tostan, the world of D&I needs to reframe expectations, approaches, and accountabilities. To achieve the kind of rapid, meaningful, sustainable outcomes that Tostan communities achieve, we have an obligation to reframe how we do the work of D&I to realize better results. It is our duty and responsibility to impact lives right now, and to sustain those impacts for the lives of tomorrow, as well.
Do you have the conviction and creativity to cultivate the kind of transformative inclusion that makes a life, a team, an organization, a community, and our world better today? The potential inside you and the stakeholders counting on you need you to say, “Yes.”
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