Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Diversity & inclusion, infertility & loss
I attended a workshop this morning on diversity & inclusion. It was kind of an obligatory thing we all have to go through at work -- but it turned out to be a really interesting presentation, & a great speaker. Most of the material we explored was stuff that I already knew -- but he presented it so well, it really got me thinking about these issues in a fresh kind of way.
Part of the presentation was to open us up to the idea that diversity is more than just the four groups designated under Canada's Employment Equity Act -- women, Aboriginals, persons with disabiities and visible minorities -- that diversity encompasses all sorts of things about us. Our religion, political views, education, age, education, socio-economic background -- and lots of other, more subtle things about us, too.
The part of the presentation that really hit home for me (& got me taking notes) was the idea of privilege, of insiders and outsiders. To make the point, he asked who was left-handed, and then had the lefties in the room talk about the challenges of being left-handed -- how the world was tailor-made for right-handed people, simply because they are the majority. (Everything from door handles to light switches to scissors and student desks are built with right-handed users in mind.) How left-handed people have to take that extra step, make that extra effort, ALL THE TIME, to navigate through a world that is not built to accommodate them. How so few right-handed people recognize this -- stop to think about what it's like for left-handed people -- unless, perhaps, they know or live with someone who is left-handed.
Life is easy when you're an insider, isn't it?
He also talked about "unintentional intolerance." Most of us like to believe that we're nice, tolerant people. We don't mean to be exclusive.
But we are creatures of habit. We have our comfort zones, and we stick to them. We hang out with people who are like us, who agree with us, who reinforce our beliefs -- about the world and about ourselves and our place in it. It's just easier. It requires less energy & effort. We don't have to think about it.
That leads us to make assumptions, even when we don't realize it. We don't consider alternatives. We don't LIKE having alternatives, being challenged with new ideas -- it's too much work! When we're challenged, we tend to retreat to our comfort zones. And we tend to absorb messages from our families, from the media, from our peers, that we unconsciously fall back on & regurgitate, even when when we don't necessarily believe they are entirely true.
As you can imagine, throughout the presentation, I was thinking about my own particular frames of reference -- bereavement, infertility, childlessness -- and the challenges they present to the majority worldview. About how so much of the world is built with families in mind -- not childless couples (or single people, for that matter). How so many people just assume that they WILL get married, get pregnant within a reasonable timeframe, bring home a live, healthy baby nine months later (and then perhaps another one or two after that)?
Until they don't.
And how, when the way we try to build our families falls outside the "norm" -- dead children who are nevertheless talked about openly and treated like the important family members they are -- adoption, IVF, donor eggs, surrogates -- families of two (without children), families with two dads or two moms -- then people who have never had to think about building their own family in any way except the "norm" somehow feel threatened. Their assumptions about their cozy, easy, privileged world have been challenged. They find it difficult to relate to us in the same way they did when they assumed that we were just like them.
I wonder how many fertile people would think of themselves as privileged or an "insider" because of their fertility?
And how many of us who have had difficulty achieving what most consider to be a "normal" family structure perpetually feel like left-handers in a right-handed world?