Harmony is Overrated

As a loud and proud advocate for diversity and inclusion, I am supposed to be all about harmony right? Well, I am not. Harmony scares me.

At the core of the definition of harmony is:

a consistent, orderly, or pleasing arrangement of parts; congruity

It is hard to have real order or a “pleasing arrangement of parts” when there are awake and alive human beings involved. The fact is, if we are being authentic and honest with each other, we are all different.  And difference brings tension into relationships and groups. Clearly we need to be able to handle it in a functional way, we do not want ongoing conflict and infighting, but the tension of difference is both natural and an incredibly valuable thing. Unfortunately we often avoid it, as individuals and organizations, rather than pursue it.

The tension of difference is a catalyst for learning, for change, for robust decision making, creative problem solving and innovation.  It matters greatly, to the performance of both for individuals and groups.  If we do not have any disagreement, dissent, or tension then we are not in a social space where people are being true to themselves and honest with each other.

There is some human nature at work here.

It feels good to be in complete agreement with someone else; it is self-reinforcing and it provides a sense of unity and of belonging. It is easier and faster and simpler.

This is why the inclusion of difference is an activist thing.  Inclusion is not about what you say and it is not about what you do not do. It is about what you do. It is about what you proactively and deliberately do to leave the path of least resistance, to push against that human nature.

It is increasingly critical for our organizations to understand and pursue the value of difference, making it critical for us to be about developing the expectations, social and relational skills necessary to do this.

We have done ourselves a great disservice in and around the HR craft of continuing to allow diversity and inclusion work to reside primarily in paradigms of compliance and niceness.

Advocating and acting for diversity and inclusion is not about rainbows, sunshine, being best friends forever or harmony. It is about whole and authentic human beings being real with each other. And human beings being real with each other can be loud and messy and sometimes we knock stuff over and sometimes we have to work things out. Real is real.  It is not always convenient or orderly, but it is honest and righteous and it is packed full of potential.

Do not hope for harmony in your workplace. Hope for honesty and champion the development of skills that allow us to examine our differences in a functional and productive way.

Be good to each other.

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