As we bid adieu to summer and survive the frenzy of the fall schedule, let’s take a moment to reflect on one of the biggest highlights of 2016 – the Rio Games.
The Games heralded our quadrennial celebration of the human spirit and quest for greatness among the 10,000 athletes representing 207 nations from the Seychelles to the first ever Refugee Olympic team. The Games also represented an opportune time to reflect on the meaning of the word diversity in our fractured and fragile world.
At Maracanã Stadium during the opening ceremony on August 5, one would agree we had the most diverse gathering in the world. One could also argue that we did not. What we had instead was the most unified global force “living peacefully together sharing their meals and emotions” in the words of Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee. Unified in their focus, unified in their dedication and unified in their will to win.
The diversity we did observe at Maracanã Stadium was the “diversity of the outside” - the color of a person’s skin, presence of XY and XX sex chromosomes, and other observable differences including dress, language, physical features and mannerisms that often lead to stereotypical conclusions on the person’s sexual preference, religious faith, socio-economic status and other visible traits.
It is this “diversity of the outside” that our society is zealously focused on — from corporations spending billions of dollars to attract, manage and retain diverse talent to government initiatives like Obama’s Diversity & Inclusion Strategic Plan to NGO work by the UN’s Women Watch and institutions inspired by Nobel Peace Prize winners, like the Malala Fund.
We absolutely need this “diversity of the outside” and we need to achieve equality urgently and quickly. Importantly, the path we take to achieve this equality will determine if we will ever get there. Today that path is erratic, unpredictable and always undermined by entrenched, unspoken (and as we’ve seen during these Presidential elections, often spoken) discrimination at both the institutional and individual level.
The reason for this is simple. The narrative we are using to chronicle diversity in our global society is perpetuating deeply negative stereotypes. This is particularly true in terms of race relations in the US and the global terrorism epidemic. The media plays a critical role in reinforcing inaccurate generalizations and in many cases, unfortunately, this has led to the danger of being further strengthened in our educational institutions and in our homes.
Thomas Bach also said in reference to the first-ever Refugee Olympic team, “in this Olympic world, we do not just tolerate diversity, we welcome you as enrichment to our unity in diversity”
One could argue that one should never have to tolerate something that should naturally be embraced. One day we will get there. We can start with today as we raise our voices during Global Goals Week. We will achieve the Global Goals by 2030. And when we do, we will have an opportunity to go beyond the “diversity of the outside” and focus on the “diversity of the inside” - a person’s opinions, thoughts, ideas, skills, life goals, hopes and dreams. We will not judge a person by their visible differences or use it as a proxy to diversity of thought and character. It will be one descriptor of who they are, along with all the other traits that define the whole person. We will treat each person as an individual and get to know each other’s true substance without preconceived judgment based on skin color, gender, faith, sexual preference, socio-economic status or disability. We will get what we really, really want: to be treated as an individual, equal in every way.
One day, the word diversity in our global interconnected village will only be in reference to “diversity of the inside” and the history books will chronicle how we achieved equality and celebrated the “diversity of the outside” by reframing our conversations through empathy, boldly challenging our institutions, diligently educating our children and offering new and balanced images that truly defy the cancerous stereotypes that has the potential to destroy us all.
In the game of life as in the Olympic Games, it will be about the uniqueness, passion and talent of the individual and always about the commonality of humankind that binds us together.
This is our one chance to redefine the destiny of diversity.