We live in a diverse world, and at the same time, it seems we have become increasingly intolerant. The more you look for signs of both, the more you will find it. Some say we need to stop looking so hard; I say we need to start looking harder.

Diversity is part of my core; I work hard to create diversity in my life. I find people who are different from me interesting. I learn more from people who see the world differently than I do from those who see it the same. Diversity of thought is the hardest. And, groups that achieve it consistently outperform. When everyone is thinking and saying something different, the member has a richer experience and a richer opportunity to make their own decisions.

So what does this have to do with words? We have a choice. We can live our lives surrounded by people who are exactly like us, listen to news that supports our way of thinking, and insulate ourselves from anyone and anything that isn’t aligned with our way of thinking and how we see the world.

Or, we can live in the world as it is, a mosaic of differences.

If we choose the former, we need only use words in common usage in our chosen community. On the other hand, if we choose the latter, then words matter; what is heard by the listener is all that matters.

Sometimes words can seem innocuous and harmless. For example, to some, an expression like “open the kimono” is simply a colorful way to describe transparency. Others call it sexist and racist. Forbes included “open the kimono” in its “Most Annoying Business Jargon” bracket, wherein Bruce Barry, a professor at Vanderbilt University’s Owen School of Business, calls it “kind of creepy.”

Words matter in a diverse world because if we want to be heard, we must speak in a manner that allows us to be heard. Words heard as inflammatory cause the listener to stop listening and hear only the disrespect.

On the other hand, as with everything, there is another side. The side of being too politically correct. The place where we so carefully script our words that we lose any sense of honest communication.

What to do? On the one hand, increasingly, we hear words of hate and intolerance; on the other, more and more, we hear words that are so crafted they don’t mean anything. How do we reconcile these two opposing trends in our society?

I wonder if the common theme between the two is a lack of empathy and authenticity? 

  • If fear is what is truly present, rather than intolerance, how do we express this authentically?
  • Is it possible to be authentic and at the same time express tolerance of differences?
  • Is it possible to be authentic and be kind in the words and tone we choose?
  • Is it possible to express our fears and concerns while being open to hearing someone else’s truth?
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