Diversity and Fear - What do we do about Fear?

August 9. 2019

Updated: August 12, 2019

A few weeks ago, I sat in a large meeting where the topic of increasing the membership of Maori in the group came up. The patron of the organisation (a prominent New Zealander) said, “Well, as a Pakeha, I can’t just approach Maori strangers and ask them to join”. Maybe fear was involved, maybe it was something else. Regardless, I know fear was involved in what I did (or didn’t do) next.

My response (inside my head), was “Really? As a New Zealand leader you couldn’t reach out to the head of a Maori organisation (perhaps one with an aligned kaupapa) and say “I think our organisation could really benefit your mokopuna – but I don’t know. Could we get together and discuss?”. But, fear stopped me from getting up in front 200 people and saying that. Fear stopped me from objecting to the discussion of introducing Maori ‘quotas’, as the first solution, rather than the last.

Of course, then I sat there with my guilt – thinking of Niemoller's poem telling us that here is no left to speak for us, if we don't speak for others.

When it was my turn to speak, I did talk about our MRISE project, but I didn’t explicitly draw the group’s attention to the limited membership of other diverse groups in addition to Maori. Nobody had to convince me what was being said was a problem – but I didn’t have the techniques to overcome the fear of standing up for an issue that doesn’t effect me.

This fear is common in many group-settings, and especially cross-cultural settings when we dis-empower each other, by claiming only ‘insiders’, - in this case, only those that are actually Maori, can provide suggestions on how to increase Maori membership of an organisation.

The conversation has to shift so that fear is transformed into the active conversation. What makes us afraid to include diversity – to reach out to others that are different to us.

Dr Jonathan Ashong-Lambton has a great view of on tools for overcome such fears. I particularly like where he says there is a message of hope in this kind of fear, if we can leverage how each individual manages their own multiple roles/identities, and apply it to our external difference leading to exponential growth. He has a podcast on the subject coming up in late August. I will keep you updated.