I’ve been an equality and inclusion (or as I prefer to call it 'fairness') campaigner for well over 40 years.
There is one thing most of the groups I stand alongside have in common: I have little in common with them! I’m a ‘straight ally’, have been for ages, yet I don’t identify as any of the LGBT+ communities. I help disabled communities, yet don’t declare any disability. I am secular, yet actively support faith groups. The list goes on.
So, I’m frequently asked, why do I do it? Here’s the answer. I want the world to be better for me. That sounds incredibly selfish, but it isn’t. Here’s why.
Humans are, by nature, a social bunch. They don’t like solitude, they like to have people around them. They feed off each other intellectually and cannot exist alone.
Think about it, logically. You have a burst pipe at home, so you call for the plumber. The reason is that you need someone with skills that you don’t have. It’s a selfish thing, but in a good way. You’re using someone in order to make your life better, but in a mutually beneficial way. You pay the plumber for the work that they do, and they can make a living, put food on the table, pay the bills, and so on. So, an initially self-centred solution benefits everyone.
Warmth and friendliness
Life is like that, and that’s why we need to value people who are different. You get a different viewpoint when you step outside your comfort zone.
I well remember the first time I went into an LGBT centre. I was nervous. I needn’t have been. To this day, I remember the warmth and friendliness with which I was received. I’m now vice-chair of the board there!
I have made great friends just by getting involved in issues that, on the face of it, don’t directly concern me. I have a better appreciation of people, seeing them for who they are, rather than what others think they should be. And through that I know myself a whole lot better.
It’s very easy to try to impose your own values on others, and expect them to be like you. We naturally tend to gravitate towards people who are similar to us. Look at your circle of friends; they probably have the same values, backgrounds and interests. I dare say they look fairly similar to you. But going out into a wider set of communities you meet some inspirational and exceptional people. And, as a result, you become more rounded as an individual, more tolerant of difference, and certainly more at peace with yourself. I know I am.
Minorities of one
So, go on. Try it. Get involved. Help others, even if you don’t have too much in common with them.
Someone said once that when it comes to diversity, we’re all minorities of one. That’s so true, as no two people, even within a close-knit community, are exactly alike. Value the difference.
When it comes to making life better for everyone, remember Gandhi’s words: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
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