Diversity Training #4

For the purposes of this particular post, I plan on focusing on Diversity Training #4 – to read all 7 of the Diversity Trainings, please click here: https://goingoutwordsandinwords.wordpress.com/?s=diversity+trainings. Our local sangha, Be Here Now, which meets on Monday nights at the Open Way Mindfulness Center here in Missoula, MT, has taken up the 7 Diversity Trainings as a 7-month series. Once a month, on the first Monday, we have a different sangha member give a short talk on one of the trainings, and then we open up for community sharing centered around whichever training we’re on. Tonight, we’ll be on #4.

I only recently became aware of these Diversity Trainings this past January, so I am still getting familiar with each of them and forming my own relationship to them. As a writer, what better way is there to foster this relationship than by writing about it?!

Diversity Training #4:

Aware of the suffering caused by intentional or unintentional acts of rejection, exclusion, avoidance, or indifference towards people who are culturally, physically, sexually, or economically different from me, I undertake the training to refrain from isolating myself to people of similar backgrounds as myself and from being only with people who make me feel comfortable. I commit to searching out ways to diversify my relationships and increase my sensitivity towards people of different cultures, ethnicities, sexual orientations, ages, physical abilities, genders, and economic means.

Upon reading through this training this morning, it struck me how underscored the inclusion of diversifying our relationships in regards to backgrounds is. This training seems more to focus only on specific types of differences, versus what I would deem to be the most challenging aspect of intermingling with others, which is to extend ourselves to people who simply live very different lives than we do. While it does mention that we should refrain from isolating ourselves to only certain people, I feel as though more emphasis could be put on the tendency many of us have to shun those who think, speak, and act in distinctly opposite ways than we do.

I know for myself that the hardest times I have in developing understanding, compassion, and acceptance for others has nothing to do with race, gender, sexual orientation, physical abilities, cultural differences, or economic means. The hardest times I have are centered around having a totally different way of viewing and engaging the world.

I also find it interesting that this training does not mention religious differences, as I think that’s another common one that we struggle with, as a human collective.

Regarding this training, there are three main avenues I venture down which help me to expand my awareness and perspective – and serve to strengthen my capacity of inclusiveness – for individuals who think and play out the cards they were dealt in a very different fashion than me.

  1. I invest time and energy into connecting with a friend of mine, via letter-writing, who is incarcerated. Actually, right now I have two friends in prison that I write to but one of them in particular is very differently minded and geared than I am. Receiving letters from him really opens up my field of vision and allows me inside access to a world I simply have no other connection with. I deeply value this relationship and it’s also one that is challenging, as his letters are heart-heavy to read.
  2. I volunteer with a hospice group in town. I visit one-on-one with patients for social interaction and have been doing this work for 15 years. Over the years I’ve had many different patients. Some have been in their own homes still, some have been in a facility, some have been warm and friendly, and some could be commonly described as being difficult or grumpy. Due to the fact that a vast majority of the patients I’ve met with have been in their 80’s or 90’s, the lives they’ve lived were largely sculpted in different times, ingrained with different mindsets, goals, and values. Not only have I learned a wealth of history and details from patients about how things were long before I was born, which I greatly enjoy, but I’ve also encountered elements of bigotry, racism, sexism, and intolerance. It’s good practice to not get caught in the learned habits and patterns of others, to not take them as a personal affront – to not judge and condemn others for the views they hold, but to accept and embrace people for the whole of their being.
  3. I make it a point to read news stories when my first reaction in reading the headline is something like: What?! or Oh dear. If my forehead wrinkles, I know it’s a sign that I should probably investigate the news story further than simply reading the headline and one-sentence synopsis, as it often means that I’ve made a snap-judgement based solely on a few meager words. I also have special interest in reading local crime reports when they’re posted, as I intentionally utilize them as an exercise to develop my understanding of circumstances beyond my initial train of thought. I am continuously amused by how often my immediate judgement based on a news headline is deemed almost completely groundless once I finish reading the full article. But again, I read those articles with the intent to delve into my judgements and develop understanding – these things don’t tend to just happen naturally on their own, we have to make it a practice in order for it to yield benefit and inspire transformation.

I look forward to hearing others from my sangha speak to their own experience and ideas with this training tonight. There are always new layers to unfold and discover with any spiritually based teaching – and thank goodness for that.

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