Manila, 6 December 2015 — "Labels are for cans, not people." Most of us have watched Coca Cola's message in July this year. What do leaders do with this message? We see labeling happen all around us in our diverse world, and we are prone to prejudice ourselves. What can we learn from each other about adopting better and effective messages to convey hope for bridging diversity? Will you share what works for you?
When we label, we divide humanity. We cut it up in pieces. We create suffering and pain in other people and in ourselves. Labeling is a pervasive habit. Many people in our communities—and in our world at large—suffer from feeling hurt, from feeling left out, from feeling lonely. There is no light in division, just darkness.
We know that labeling is the precursor to justifying inhumane action, be it bullying, discrimination, or violence. The worst atrocities in history were committed after the perpetrators were taught and encouraged to label other people in an unfavorable way. Matthieu Ricard reminds us of many such cases in his new book Altruism–The Power of Compassion to Change Yourself and the World.
What we are witnessing now is a renewed advocacy for the use of force in countries around the world, to provide safety against what is referred to as extremist or terrorist violence. There are also voices who are cautioning that a 'war' against extremism cannot be won with force alone.
One of these voices is Scott Atran, the author of Talking to the Enemy: Faith, Brotherhood, and the (Un)Making of Terrorists. Atran advocates for the need to gain a better understanding among conflicting parties, and was invited to share his insights in the UN Security Council. His views were recently quoted in an article in The Guardian.
More than ever, our world and our communities need informed and enlightened leaders, at all levels, who can listen, understand, and bridge diversity among a bewildering variety of world views and mindsets.
As we contemplate this, we are reminded that the practice of leadership allows us to take more perspectives than the obvious ones we see in the headlines, and to explore how situations can be reframed for deeper understanding, so that effective and truly sustainable solutions can be found.
One of the well-known quotes attributed to Albert Einstein says that "No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it." To bridge diversity in our complex world and diverse communities today, we urgently need a deeper kind of thinking and understanding from a new generation of leaders who can engage in conversations that create sustainable solutions.
So how can we empower that new generation of young leaders around us, to become listeners who suspend judgment, listen, and care with empathy? How can we help them to become bridge builders, peace builders, light sharers, helpful neighbors, and warm human beings as they reach out to those around them?
What can we learn from leadership practitioners who are working with young leaders towards this vision? What can we learn from you and your experience of bridging diversity? What works for you? Will you share it?