“Be with those who celebrate you, not with those who tolerate you” (Keith McEvoy)

We are different in many ways, but one thing that we have in common as people is that we all have a variety of likes or dislikes, in varying degrees. Some are harmless – “I love rollercoaster rides” or “I hate rollercoaster rides – they make me sick”. Some are powerful – “I strongly believe in recycling.  I actually frequently promote ‘green’ within my city as my part of saving the planet”. Others can be truly destructive – “I hate … whatever race, creed, religion, preference, etc.” These kinds of biases and prejudices (skewed mind-sets that inform attitude and subsequently, behaviour) hurt, cause division and build walls between people. Some of the great politicians and activists of the past (the group to which Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa and Nelson Mandela belong) and some current politicians (Barack Obama and a few others) urge the world to be tolerant, to accept differences and attempt to get along with others, whilst respecting the dignity of the human being. While these sentiments are noble, the human being can aspire to behaviour greater than tolerance. The word ‘tolerance’ means “the ability or willingness to suffer the existence of opinions or behaviour that one dislikes or disagrees with” or put most positively “the capacity for or the practise of recognising and respecting the beliefs or practises of others”. In other words, we must attempt to “put up with” the differences we experience in others or at least appreciate that we should allow others to be different – they do not have to conform to the way we like to live our respective lives.

If one could visualise a continuum, with ‘intolerance’ (or even hatred) at the one extreme, then ‘tolerance’ would fit in the middle somewhere. On the other extreme, ‘valuing diversity’ or ‘celebrating diversity’ take their place. This celebration of difference takes the concept of tolerance to a new level – where we find difference of opinion useful or even refreshing. Here we recognise that someone else’s point of view might actually challenge the way we think and what we believe and may indeed enhance our understanding and grow our wisdom. People that celebrate diversity seek it out, knowing that even though they may not agree with the other, the thought processes applied to what is been communicated in the exchange can only enhance understanding and appreciation of the other.

We live in a world that is cynical – we are usually suspicious and point out that which is wrong with a person and don’t look for or acknowledge contribution, ideas, opinions and giftedness. In fact, many even feel threatened by the ideas and successes of others and struggle to work interdependently with them. Independence requires far less emotional energy than interdependence. Interdependence is about thinking in terms of abundance – developing a frame of mind and heart that seeks mutual benefit and is based on mutual respect in all interactions.  Independent (even selfish) people think in terms of scarcity and adversarial competition whereas interdependent thinkers look at ever-expanding possibilities of opportunity, wealth and resources.

It would seem that we need human beings who refuse to be cynical and who say: “We believe that almost every human being, regardless of his or her past experiences and training, if given the chance to be trustworthy, honest and fair, will embrace the opportunity and act with high integrity”. In commenting on this interdependent spirit, Stephen R Covey (of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People fame) noted: “This comes out of the mind, heart and soul of a person who is deeply principle-centred and thus inwardly secure” – the willingness to apologise, the willingness to listen sincerely, the willingness to express courageously, the willingness to explore new opportunities creatively. These capacities lie within almost all of us.

Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire, but carry others along with you in the journey. Acknowledge your need of developing a circle of associates who are interdependent thinkers – people of diverse backgrounds, beliefs and educational disciplines who will challenge your own thinking gently, but firmly, knowing that these challenges will be invaluable for self-development. Embrace diversity – celebrate difference and grow.

Free To Grow offers the programme WorkQ Diversity.