What Swimmers Have Taught Me About Diversity—Part Two

So what do my discoveries about the formerly alien world of swimmers have to do with my understanding of diversity?

They have everything to do with the idea of “Us v. Them”—and it took Charlottesville to open my eyes to it.

On a smaller scale, the differences I found between swimmers and me left me with two choices: use my natural curiosity to explore my Beloved’s world so I could join it as one of “Us”—or use those differences to keep us apart, leaving him as one of “Them.” Three years ago, I chose to become one of “Us” and my willingness to shift my perspective has enriched us both.

The events in Charlottesville have rocked me personally—along with everyone who sees how deeply our differences are embedded in the fabric of our country. Now I have that same choice again—will I work to create an “Us” or will I allow the circumstances to leave me pointing at “Them?”

This decision has been eating at me for almost a year. After a difficult time in the election trenches last year, I kept thinking I had a choice about whether or not I could continue to engage in the conversation. My natural curiosity was on hiatus—I was heartsick—so the one thing that had opened the doors to the world of swimmers for me was absent in the larger context of national events.

It’s hard to imagine that I would ever detach enough from the reality of my partner’s passion and joy of swimming—or turn it invisible. Yet my detachment from national events allowed me to intermittently support the conversation from the sidelines when I could and then turn it invisible again so I could continue to move forward in my life.

The hardest thing to do this week was to open my eyes and get curious. Although I have more emotion than I can process in one week and more insights than I can synthesize for one blog, there are three Simple Shifts I learned from the swimmers that have really helped me this week:

  1. Focus your awareness on what you need to see. What’s invisible to you can hurt you. It’s been painful to learn that my own white privilege—and the damage that I unknowingly do because of it—has been invisible to me all my life. Any swimmer will tell you that increasing your awareness of every factor involved in your event will transform your experience; I have found that my increased awareness this week has helped me to begin to maneuver my way through the horrors we’re in the midst of uncovering and working to repair.
  2. Remember there are other languages besides yours. I have learned to understand “Swim” and I even speak it on occasion. I learned this week that, just like Swim sounds like English yet has a different meaning, there are words I’ve been speaking that can mean something else to others who are different from me. Taking the time to be conscious of what I’m really saying and listening to what others are really saying—instead of jumping to conclusions—helps tremendously in the painful and awkward conversations that are necessary to move forward together as a nation of people who truly respect and support one another.
  3. Keep your single focus on unity. When I’ve been in the midst of awkward and uncomfortable conversations that I’ve never had before, this focus helped us to forgive each other for our ignorance as we shared with each other how we want to engage as equals under the law. More than that, it helped us to distinguish those who are not interested in unity and committed to hold them accountable under the law.

Next week: What Do I Say??

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