The Value of Diversity

 In Guest Blogs

“In diversity there is beauty and there is strength”

Guest Blog by Kelley Haynes-Mendez, Licensed Psychologist & Associate Professor at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology

Understanding the value of diversity is a necessary skill-set in a world that is increasingly interconnected. People from all walks of life interact not only across disciplines but also across cultures on a daily basis. Setting a tone for the value of diversity has been shown to improve performance within teams. Studies show that diverse teams often outperform homogeneous teams, particularly in the area of creative output. At work or at home, we can seek to increase our appreciation of the value of diversity by understanding the strength and beauty it holds.

Many years ago I attended a conference where a group of scientists shared their work researching links between exposure to art and subsequent emotional wellbeing. This particular group of scientists had conducted research suggesting that when older persons were taken to art museums, their moods improved. The researchers went on to explain that when people view art, the brain responds in a way that is similar to what happens when a person looks at their lover. One of my colleagues went on to state “Oh! Now I can tell my lover that looking at you is like seeing a work of art!” We all shared a good chuckle, but were truly impressed by the positive impacts of art and beauty.

And while all types of beauty may not have the same neurological effects, beauty certainly comes in different forms. In this respect, scientists are also discovering the positive aspects of experiencing the beauty of nature. Some of those impacts include a slower heart rate and deeper breathing. Research shows that taking only a 20-minute nature walk can positively boost one’s mood. I enjoy – very much – the beauty and peace that I find in nature and spend quite a lot of time at a local arboretum. I can attest to its positive impact on my state of mind and wellbeing. During my visits, I am consistently impressed with the diversity of the flora surrounding me, and I am fascinated by the interdependency and balance between the various species. I am often reminded on my walks that we can easily appreciate diversity in nature but not always in the people around us.

Maya Angelou, American author and poet, once stated that we should be teaching others that “…in diversity there is beauty and there is strength. We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of that tapestry are equal in value no matter their color.” Here, Angelou is speaking specifically about teaching young people, but I also believe this is an important value to know and understand at any age.

For me, human diversity in all its varied forms is incredibly beautiful. I am reminded of walking through a Kenyan market near Nairobi and hearing maybe 10 different languages and dialects tumbling over one another. Or the sights and smells and sounds of street tacos in Mexico City. Or hearing the melodies of hymns from the Samson Cree Nation in Alberta Canada during a smudging ceremony. We are varied and diverse, and, as Angelou states, we can find strength in learning how to appreciate those differences.

Over the past several decades, our world is increasingly global and interdependent. This is due to a variety of factors including travel, social demographics, and migration. We are exposed to cross cultural interactions in a way that has not occurred before in our collective history. These interactions provide us with opportunities to learn about other people and cultures. Our communities – both small and large – have become more and more diverse. Some may feel threatened by these new dynamics – as if somehow their social group is being replaced or overtaken. There are those who may want to leave their communities in order to find more homogeneous ones. Others may even go so far as to harm people from different backgrounds. However, there are still people who will take the opportunity to move past an initial feeling of threat and choose to learn about their new neighbors – growing the value of diversity within their families and communities. I agree with Maya Angelou that there is strength in embracing and appreciating the diversity around us. Surely, if we can learn how to appreciate different forms of art and nature, we can learn how to appreciate one other.

Kelley Haynes-Mendez is a contributor to the UPEACE Centre for Executive Education blog. She is a licensed psychologist and Associate Professor at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, teaching primarily in the area multicultural psychology with professional interests in global citizenship education. Ms. Haynes-Mendez organizes professional development seminars for educations leaders in conjunction with the UPEACE Centre for Executive Education.

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