Diversity Through Storytelling

Photo of letters on a cork bulletin board

"Diversity in the world is a basic characteristic of human society, and also the key condition for a lively and dynamic world as we see today." - Hu Jintao, Chinese President

We hear the word “diversity” nearly every day, but what are we really talking about? Race, gender, age, nationality, or maybe all of these? Or is the real question: how can we all work effectively within a diverse environment?

Diversity is around us, on every side and in every conceivable combination. We must respect that it is a part of each one of us and we should embrace, appreciate and learn all we can about each other.

So what are some ways we can learn about diversity? Storytelling. That’s right, storytelling. It brought the bigger Princeton community together through a workshop run by Susan Danoff called “Storytelling: Exploring Diversity/Building Community”.[1]

One of the things that I found fascinating was introducing yourself by telling a story about your name.  Who were you named after and why? Was it a name based on your culture? Was it based on nature or the stars? That, of course, had me thinking about my own name and what story I would tell.

I don’t know about you, but my grandfather always indicated that the reason I was named “Jay” was they couldn’t spell “yech”. . .  Ok, he was joking, but it still made me wonder. Because when I was growing up, there weren’t too many other Jays around. Jay Silverheels, who played Tonto on the Lone Ranger, and Jay North who played Dennis the Menace (yes, these really date me), but that was about it. No one to really identify with. I guess Mom was ahead of her time when she named me because now there are tons of us out there including Jay Leno and Jay Cutler, which is pretty cool.

Photo of a wide variety of Indian cooking

"I like to eat and I love the diversity of foods." - David Soul, actor

Another way we appreciate each others’ diversity and can bridge the knowledge gap between cultures is by learning more about how we’re different. This encompasses a large array of things, but one obvious one is food! Food transcends: we can all agree we have to eat. Eating is fun and food can bring people together!

Have you ever had Chicken Tikka Masala, Naan bread and Jasmine rice? Sushi, brown rice and an egg roll? How much can one learn about another culture by making some special recipe and talking about how it brought people together?  How interesting would it be to share a story about a special holiday and the food that was eaten at the holiday meal? What are some funny incidents that were had during that time? What are some of the differences in how each of us celebrate a holiday and why?

Think of the learning opportunities and the laughter that would abound!  We don’t think about our differences when we are talking, laughing or crying about the stories and the life experiences we all share as people.

Have you ever been to Your DeKalb Farmers Market or the Buford Highway International Farmer’s Market? Wow, I have never seen so many different types of food from so many different places. You can see, hear, taste and smell dozens of different countries and cultures all in one place. My wife, Nancy, and I have taken the opportunity on many occasions to talk with their staff to learn about not only the food they are selling or serving, but also about their personal experiences and stories about coming to and being in America. We love it!

Diversity can challenge each one of us, but is also exciting and interesting. The world is such a small place today, and with all of our many technological innovations, we must embrace both our unique differences and our many similarities. Storytelling can help us do that – it can bring us all together.

[1]  Hetty Baiz, “Exploring Diversity and Creating IT Community through Storytelling” in EduCause Center for Applied Research, Research Bulletin, Volume 2009, Issue 11, available at http://www.educause.edu/ecar/research-publications.

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