I had a chance to interview Howard Ross, a global diversity and inclusion expert and the author of Our Search for Belonging: How Our Need to Connect Is Tearing Us Apart, which I reviewed for this site. Ross’ timely new book addresses the forces dividing society, and how we can overcome them.
How have we turned our natural need for belonging into unhealthy, destructive extremes?
Belonging is, in and of itself, a natural desire for human beings. When it binds us together inclusively for the purposes of mutual support, strengthened interconnectivity and mutuality, it can be a force for enormous good. However, when our need to belong is centered around the exclusion and demonization of an “other,” it can lead to toxic tribalism. In our current climate, we’ve developed that kind of toxic tribalism, and the need to belong then reinforces a need to be with “these people” rather than “those people.”
How is our society promoting people to separate into “us” and “them?”
The challenge that we have today is magnified by a number of factors. The bifurcation of media has resulted in each “side” of the political spectrum getting different information without an agreed-upon, dependable source of accuracy. This is accentuated by the reality that most of the news we get is filtered through punditry — meaning that we get information that’s pre-interpreted by one side or the other.
In addition, people are living in more and more segregated political environments, and social media allows for even more of an echo chamber of our own ideas. As we’ve moved from a political system driven by the middle with some on the extremes, to one driven by the extremes, we increasingly objectify the opposition.
If our society continues to fuel divisiveness, what could be the consequences?
It’s hard to see it ending well if we don’t begin to intervene. We’ve already moved to the point that it feels like we’re living in two parallel countries, with each side taking turns in leadership; in windshield wiper mode, with each side increasingly separating from the other.
What can we do, personally, to bridge these divides?
It begins with reaching out to people who we know disagree with us, and trying to just understand each other. We can also keep ourselves more widely informed by reading and watching multiple news sources so that, at the very least, we understand more about the “why” of each other’s points of view.
What can businesses and organizations do to create more inclusion?
The book cites 8 Pathways to Belonging — we don’t have enough space for them here. However, the workplace may very well be one of our last best hopes, because it’s one of the few places in our lives where we have to engage with people who aren’t all alike.
Organizations can establish practices of collaboration, provide education to help people learn to understand and manage their biases, and make a conscious effort to engage people at all levels in cooperative activity that can develop the capacity for broader inclusion.
Learn more about Howard Ross and his new book at his website.