I just returned from a women’s yoga retreat that intensely brought into focus the beauty that can be found in the throws of difference.
To this retreat, set in a most inspiring of setting in Ontario, came 15 women of very diverse backgrounds, ages and beliefs. Some were deeply immersed in their religious and spiritual life, complete with garments to reflect these beliefs, others not sure they even believed in the existence of God. Some women had more than five children, some none. Some had thriving careers; others were dedicated to the raising of their children full-time. Some were Canadian, several reside in other countries.
In short, like many of today’s work environments, it was one big mish-mash.
At first it seemed that the walls were too high, the differences too large, the `languages’ too distinct.
But then something began happening.
Each of us brought our authentic self to the interactions, asking, enquiring, explaining, sharing personal quests. Before long it was magical. From the differences grew not only an understanding of the ‘other’, but also an enrichment and personal growth that could not have revealed itself to us had we spent the time with people who are more of the same cloth. The richness and unity that I experienced were beyond anything I would have linearly expected.
So how do we make this happen in the workplace? My observations indicate that cultural and other differences between the people who inhabit organizations are often avoided, smoothed over, as if people are afraid to ask and be curious for fear of overstepping invisible boundaries. This is understandable; I certainly have heard from people in my workshops about demonstrating curiosity toward a colleague of a different background only to later hear from Human Resources that the person being asked was offended by what they experienced to be intrusive questions.
Still, there has to be a way in which the workplace can emulate some of the experience that I was privileged to be part of these past few days. The work environment will be transformed if diversity is built upon rather than gently avoided. Business results will be very different too if when people are truly in dialogue.
If each of us, if you personally, took it upon yourself to bring your authentic self to work a bit more frequently and if you initiated an authentic interface with your fellow workers, my-oh-my, would that not be divine.