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Posted by Philip on 10 December 2015, 11:00 am in , , , , ,

Diversity and the re-orientation of awareness

In the 1980s, 90s and early 2000s I ran awareness workshops. They were focussed on raising awareness of others' diversity, often a certain aspect or characteristic: their disability, sexuality, etc. I also attended workshops aimed at raising my awareness of others, eg. cultural diversity.

I've been reflecting on the work I do now, in particular sessions I've led for ATEED and Idea Services' Autism and Specialist Support team in the last week. I realise I've totally re-oriented the role of awareness in understanding and responding to diversity.

These days I work with people to increase their awareness of themselves, to develop self-awareness.

It seems counter-intuitive, but self-awareness is a far more agile tool to use when engaging with others. Self-awareness is more useful than having some form of "textbook knowledge" of other people. Because there are no rules of thumb for engaging respectfully and meaningfully with people if you want to acknowledge the true nature of diversity.

The only person we can truly understand is ourselves. This includes knowing our values, preferences, strengths and weaknesses, to name a few. But there is a deeper level of awareness that can help us engage confidently with others.

This "deep awareness" includes noticing how we categorise people — not so we can not categorise them — but so that we can step outside ourselves and choose how we respond to it. It includes being aware of how we react or respond to assumptions and cope with being wrong and not knowing. 

It also gives us the humility to realise our assumptions may be wrong and that, until we build relationships with people, we are driving blind. We need to be comfortable with the discomfort of not knowing.

If we fear getting it wrong with people — what we think, say or do — we become paralysed and disengage, rather than engaging curiously and authentically. Self-awareness also allows us to share ourselves generously. And two or more people engaging curiously, generously and fearlessly  — no matter their uniqueness or commonality — is a recipe for great connection.

So next time you are wondering about somebody else, stop for a moment and wonder about yourself. How willing are you to doubt your assumptions? How scared are you of stuffing up? How comfortable are you to not know?

Then go and engage with curiosity and generosity. Enjoy the discovery.

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