How Important Is Diversity in Thinking?
We focus on visual diversity, but is there value in thinking differently?
Posted February 23, 2021
We are driven to have diversity in our lives––in schools, workplaces, and organizations. What does diversity mean? Why do we want it? Wordhippo.com gives synonyms for “diversity” of variety, range, mix, array, assortment, contrast, dissimilarity, and distinctiveness.
Many of us want diverse people and experiences to be a part of our lives, such as gender, race, age, sexual orientation, educational experience, accomplishments, cultural background, religion, interests, appearance, family composition, and political beliefs.
Why Do We Want Diversity?
We seek an array of people and experiences because we believe it enriches life and because it appears fair to everyone to be included in the whole of human experience.
Diverse Patterns of Emotional Conditioning
In my forays as a psychiatrist into the minds of people and how they work, I discovered diversities of emotional conditioning early in each person’s life. Emotional conditioning is how people are shaped by their parents’ emotional responses to them early in life. This conditioning follows two patterns. These patterns dictate many facets of us — our self-esteem, standards, values, ways we expect or don’t welcome emotional support, ways of committing to ourselves and others, and the scope of our interests.
Most importantly, our emotional conditioning shapes how we think — the capacity of our mind, the ways we view reality, the quality of our thought, and our style of thought. I published these findings in Living on Automatic: How Emotional Conditioning Shapes Our Lives and Relationships, co-authored with Homer B. Martin, MD, also a psychiatrist. Our study spans 80 years.
Exposure to dissimilarity of thought is grasping a diversity unlike all others. It goes deeper and is more valuable than differences in gender, race, and other varieties of distinctiveness people possess. Dr. Martin and I discovered dissimilar thought is not tied to what we see in others––age, race, sex. Nor is it tied to what we know superficially about others––educational attainment, place of worship, political views, interest in knitting or fly fishing, married or single, or parent of one child or ten.
These superficial aspects and these we see do not tell us significant or meaningful information about others, certainly not as significant as a person’s way of thinking. Dr. Martin and I discovered ways of thinking do not correlate with anything we see or with the superficial aspects of people. Men do not think differently than women. Caucasian people do not think differently than African Americans. Nor do gay people think differently from heterosexual ones. And, knitters do not think differently than fly fishermen.
I’ll share with you a story about thought diversity and its ability to enhance our lives.
Several people, who work for both non-profit and government agencies, form a bi-weekly group that meets after work. They want to start their own companies. Their meetings help one another toward this end. The group advertises and gradually collects new members. They seek a diverse group from different walks of life, with different educational levels, skin colors, ages, and sexes.
Five people come together to begin discussions. They are a mix of people. One is a 60-year-old man, middle class, Caucasian, heterosexual, divorced, Methodist, with a past military career and college education.
The second member is a 32-year-old woman, heterosexual, African American, unmarried, Catholic, and has a master’s degree in special education.
The third person is a 27-year-old Caucasian, single, Bosnian, Muslim woman with a high school education.
A fourth person is a 43-year-old African American man, gay, married, and college-educated, who has no religious affiliation.
The fifth person is a 52-year-old, married, heterosexual man with dark brown skin and a Master’s degree. He is from India and is a follower of the Hindu religion.
The group goes about their work together. At some point, they discuss the issue of employee benefits. What will they offer future employees in their new companies? Each comments how generous he or she plans to be with vacations, onsite childcare, sick leave, and matching retirement plans.
The group has minimal disagreement about the employee benefits they want to offer. No one has dissenting opinions or distinct viewpoints from other members on this topic. In spite of their personal diversities of gender, race, cultural, educational, and religious backgrounds, they think homogeneously. How can this be? We expect them to be divergent in their thoughts and viewpoints due to their other diversities, but they are not.
After eight months, three new members join the group.
One is a 48-year-old divorced, heterosexual Hispanic woman, working as a domestic for a large hotel chain. She is Catholic, has brownish skin, and is enrolled in her first year of college.
Another new member is a 24-year-old heterosexual single African American man with a high school education. He is a member of the African Methodist Episcopal church and works as a package handler at the airport.
The third new person is a 38-year-old married, transsexual Caucasian woman, with a college degree, who was formerly an Air Force pilot. She is a Quaker.
These three join the group’s ongoing conversation about how much and what to offer as employee benefits in their new companies. The newcomers listen to the summary of the generous benefits everyone else believes they should offer. One of the newcomers agrees with what has already been discussed about generous benefits, but two others do not.
The two not in agreement say benefits should not be so generous as to avoid lowering profits. One says if benefits are kept minimal, there will be more profit. The other newcomer agrees and further explains that more profit allows anyone’s company to grow. When that happens, more people can be hired by putting some of the profits toward having new employees. Then, as owners, you can think about increasing employee benefits later on.
By the two new people introducing a new point of view, the other group members ponder these new ideas. Most people decide the new thinking adds a fresh and reasonable viewpoint. They decide the viewpoint has merit and most of them decide to change their plans about employee benefits.
These are new thoughts that bring up viewpoints never before raised. All these people are diverse in their appearances, what you can see, and in their superficial characteristics. But they are homogeneous thinkers. Only when two distinctively different thinkers enter the discussion does the diversity of thought play out. This diversity benefits the goals of everyone interested in setting up their own business.
Value of Diverse Thinking
Diverse thinking is not something for which we use our eyes. We cannot see it in others. It must come up in expressing viewpoints, in discussion, and in listening. Diverse-looking people can all think the same. Homogeneity of thought may cripple us from making a better world.
We should opt for eliciting different styles of thinking in others to achieve remarkable and rich diversity. Diversity in thinking is the pearl of distinctiveness among people because it propels us forward to make better decisions in life.