What the Christchurch tragedy can teach us about inclusion and diversity

What the Christchurch tragedy can teach us about inclusion and diversity

5 years ago 0 3 1140

The terrible hate crime in New Zealand has sparked support for diversity and inclusion, and raises questions about the cost of divisiveness. So in our search for diversity and inclusion, how do we address the comments of a far-right senator , and how do we choose, as a society what is acceptable as free speech or unacceptable commentary? How can we be truly inclusive if we exclude comments such as these? Is there a better way?

The media has been full of images and stories related to the tragic events in Christchurch, New Zealand. Whilst everyone was expressing shock and horror over the events, an Australian senator immediately claimed that it was the immigration policies and the nature of the people’s religion that was the cause of the event.

I found myself responding to the senator’s comments with disgust, and a desire to see him sanctioned.  The position that he was taking was hurtful, harmful, inciting the worst in others and was patently incorrect.  This was a human response from my stance and values.  Then I recognised that as I responded in this way – as many people have – that I was actually not living my values of being inclusive of others.

Because if we are seeking to reach a point of true diversity and inclusion, doesn’t this also mean that the senator’s comments also need to be heard?

Here is the greatest challenge for all conversations regarding diversity and inclusion – how can we all be brave enough to listen to all opinion, invite all comment, and not marginalise any individual because their beliefs are different from ours? We may find the beliefs of others to be abhorrent, but how we do decide if we should ‘allow’ these to be heard, or censored?  This caused me to really question my approach to this whole scenario, and seek deeper understanding of my own response.

To be fully inclusive means we have to listen to opinions we do not like. Do we shut out and marginalise voices that we don’t agree with, and in so doing, not invite diversity, even when these voices wish to discriminate and divide, and even hard as the Senator’s comments would?

How do we allow people to have their views included, without being shut down when they are abhorrent to our moral values and our personal sensibilities? How do we overcome the morals and strong beliefs that we have against such positions, to at least allow these people to enter the conversation?

I noticed that I was not alone amongst many people who were claiming to support diversity and inclusion, who  were very fast to want to exclude and marginalise the senator, and any one who agreed with his position. Although extreme, how is this different from shutting down the voices of other groups and minorities, such as women, LGBTIQ, people of other races and nationalities? The senator speaks for a minority. Marginalising that position invites a lack of diversity, and encourages exclusion, and from there rigidity and extremism.

Here is the greatest challenge to diversity and inclusion ‘champions’ – when the opinion does not support their socially progressive stance, then how do they overcome their own inherent biases and heuristics (that everyone has) to want to immediately discard this alternate opinion?  In this case, the opinion is extreme, but how is it any less valid than anyone else’s? This is not a ‘dig’ at people who work so hard to improve diversity and inclusion on our society. They are attempting to do something important. It simply speaks to the fact that we are all human, all exposed to our biases and heuristics, and all have moral benchmarks around which can be triggered.

Whilst the vast majority may be repulsed by the senator’s comments, there will be some people cheering him on. Some people who feel that the senator is giving voice to their fears, concerns and position. The Senator is voicing an opinion that is held by a group of people – a group who are perhaps feeling more and more marginalised (which in turn escalates the extremist nature of their position). The current social norm is for these views to be seen as ‘far right’ and even ‘unacceptable’, adding to this marginalisation and lack of voice.

So how should we handle such statements and opinions, in an inclusive way?

The first thing is to realise that everyone is entitled to an opinion, regardless of how different it is from your own, or how wrong you believe it to be. Many of us believed in Santa when we were children. Many people have different faith positions. Many people even barrack for different football teams. Diversity suggests that this is a good thing, and inclusion suggests that we should set no ‘moral’ boundary on who can speak.

In fact, inviting these voices to the table is often the only way to listen to their position, understand their beliefs, and to perhaps open a conversation to increase the enlightenment of all. I don’t have to go away believing in your position, but I can always go away being empathetic that you feel the way that you do.  Because if I can understand what led you to this position – a fear of loss, a fear of difference, a fear of change, perhaps – then I can find ways to change the conversation and help lessen the differences between us.

We also have to be aware that what we say can impact others, and that one opinion can shut down other people who also seek to feel included, or wanting to participate. Think of how telling ‘gay’ jokes would have impacted a member of LGBTIQ community in a workplace. Or blonde jokes, or racist jokes, or whatever. Words have power, and we have a responsibility to use the power we are given with care. If we speak in ways that divide and belittle, we have to be aware that this can have a massive impact on groups of people, and can incite others to act in socially unacceptable ways, feeling ‘emboldened’ by such comments.  Particularly when the person making the comments holds a position of power or authority, hurtful and divisive comments are given more power than they actually deserve.

If we turn to the concepts raised in indigenous psychology to view such statements, then we have to recognise that from positions of power we cannot speak for other groups, particularly the disenfranchised. Anything we say about ‘them’, or ‘for them’ is inaccurate, and it is most important to find ways for these groups to speak for themselves. This includes right wing fanatics as well. We cannot know what they are feeling, or thinking – we cannot speak for them. It is actually important for us to be open to listening to their experience and integrating it into a bigger, more inclusive world view.  Just as we would expect for and of other disenfranchised communities, like the indigenous population, LGBTIQ, etc. Until we know their ‘issues’ from their perspective, how can we assist them to move forward?

On the basis of the community’s negative response to the Senator’s statements, people who hold similar views might feel deeply marginalised, and afraid to speak up. (If you disagree with his statements and want to change their minds, shutting them down from engaging is one of the least effective ways to influence someone).

It is only when we actually invite and include these discordant views that we can invite people into conversations, learning and even change. At the same time, we have to be empathetic and open to changing our beliefs and opinions as well. In the end, we may agree to disagree, but we can learn about another’s experience and beliefs that may enrich us in ways we do not expect.

Without inclusion there is no debate, yet most of the debate seems to be like someone yelling into a bucket. There is no attempt to be anything but the loudest voice. Perhaps we need some ‘rules of engagement’ to allow this to happen in an inclusive way. We should invite your comments if you are prepared to demonstrate:

  • Ownership – I own a position and that directly relates to my experience. I should not be speaking on behalf of other people that are not me, and I should speak about my experience and my position on the issue.
  • Openness – I should be invited to speak if I am open to other opinions, and potentially open to learn and grow. If I am yelling, dog whistling, stirring the pot or am not prepared to engage in conversation, then this diminishes the value of my engagement.
  • Invitation – I invite you to discuss my opinion, without defensiveness. We discuss so that we both may learn something, as may I as we approach this topic with empathy. This invitation involves mutual respect that people can have different beliefs and opinions.

If you engage from this stance, then your opinion can be heard and valued. If you are dog-whistling, trolling or yelling your views, perhaps this says something about your fear rather than your opinion.

There is also a need for thoughtful dialogue to underpin conversations. A way to enhance inclusive conversation is for all parties to approach the topic from their position, passing what they are going to say through a 4-step filter:

  • Intention. What is my intention is having this conversation, or sharing this thought?
  • Expression. How can I find appropriate language and words to express my ideas and my experiences? Often the language of different sides of an argument are so different, that the semantics stops true dialogue.
  • Implication. What is implied by what is said? Are there implications in what I say that are unintended? Is my communication built on suppositions and implications?
  • Impact. Before I speak, am I considerate of the impact that it may have on others? Does it do no harm? Does it advance the conversation? Is someone better off because of it? Is someone worse off? This is critical for continuously encouraging more inclusive behaviours and conversation.

This whole issue made me reflect upon my own approach.  Rather than simply shutting down alternate views, perhaps (as I did), when you are triggered by a topic or a comment, you could ask yourself some clarifying questions:

  • What specifically are my thoughts and beliefs around the topic?
  • Are there other opinions in this space?
  • Is it something I would be open to discussing and exploring? Am I interested to how you came to such an opinion that is different to mine?
  • Is my opinion on this topic about a specific person or thing, or has it been generalised (‘All {women, indigenous, Muslim, Catholic, }’ etc?)
  • How is that belief helpful to you and to others?
  • Who might that opinion harm?
  • How can I listen with empathy to understand what ‘lies beneath’ the statement?

In the end, inclusion and diversity is HARD. We have to consciously and continuously challenge our fixed assumptions and be open to inviting opinions that we don’t agree with. It takes empathy and effort to overcome the human behavioural biases (particularly confirmation bias and social belonging instincts). Whilst we can be great at inviting inclusion of some groups, how do we ensure that we are open to including all groups?


  1. James Poole

    5 years ago

    Great blog.
    “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” —Stephen R. Covey.

  2. Matt

    5 years ago

    Negotiation is a dialogue between two or more people or parties, intended to reach an understanding, resolve point of difference, or gain advantage in outcome of dialogue, to produce an agreement upon courses of action, to bargain for individual or collective advantage, to craft outcomes to satisfy various interests of two people/parties involved in negotiation process. Negotiation is a …

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