The Value of Otherness
Updated: Aug 22, 2019
Can you embrace otherness in yourself and in others?
Sometime ago, I wrote an article called ‘Getting Rid of Dolly’, which argued against homogenisation within teams and companies. You can access the article here, if you’re interested http://www.kay-lambertassociates.co.uk/getting-rid-of-dolly-teams-need-diversity/
So, I thought it was worth revisiting the subject of Otherness, and how it plays out in our workplaces and social communities.
There’s no doubt that we are all enriched by diversity. From the range of products on a supermarket shelf, to the list of media programmes on our screens, diversity brings us choice. But having choice requires us to make good decisions: there’s a responsibility that comes with choice. We can ignore the choice and stick only to what we know we like, or we can try and sample everything and (possibly) become overwhelmed. Or we can acknowledge the richness of variety and marvel at its colour, whilst choosing not to try out every item. I don’t imagine I will ever want to eat an oyster, or sweet meats, but I’m glad they exist. Just as I wouldn’t want to come face to face with a charging Rhino, but I’m thrilled that such remarkable beasts are still around.
Work places are designed, either deliberately or inadvertently. Underlying prejudices (and especially explicit ones) shape a work culture in a narrow way. That’s why we see workplaces that do not reflect the rich variety of the communities from which they recruit. Arguments abound as to why this happens: accident, lack of the ‘right’ skills, salary expectations that can’t be matched, etc. But much of it is down to moral laziness.
‘Otherness’ is a state that sets us apart. It celebrates difference because it acknowledges that each element of difference adds to the whole. It’s like one of those wonderful patchwork quilts, where each square is a different design, inspiring different thoughts and emotions, yet combined to serve one collective purpose.
I don’t need another me. God knows, nor do you! One is enough. What I need is someone other than me. I need other perspectives, other histories, other temperaments, other skills, other ways of processing information and other ways of organising my life. I need access to other cultural experiences and values so that I can navigate successfully through a diverse and connected world. I need to learn to become more than myself, because I live and operate within a system: I am other, but I am not apart.
When we are fearful of otherness, we close ranks. We retreat, hunker down and slowly dwindle. We lose access to the nourishment of diversity, which multiplies what we can achieve by adding skills, knowledge and understanding.
A Childish State
As a child, I hated being ‘other’. As I moved from school to school, each time being introduced to the class as the ‘new boy’, I dreamed of nothing more than just being normal. I associated otherness with being abnormal; difference with deficiency. I thought that in order to fit in, I needed to be the same.
I’m no longer a child. Whilst some may question my level of maturity, I no longer believe what I believed as a child. I am no longer constrained by the need to be a copy of my counterparts. I can embrace otherness in myself and in others.
Business should reflect the community it serves, not just because “people like to buy from people like them”, but because it will be a better business if it can access the full range of diversity that is available to it. Far from narrowing the field, it’s time to build our field of dreams. We can’t do that if we build a wall around ourselves.