Why diversity is hard to embrace

This week readings about diversity reminded me of one TED talk that I have listened a while ago. I don’t remember it exactly, but the speaker might have begun to tell a story by asking the audience who they would have come along with there, whether their companions are same nationalities, gender, age group, and looking like themselves. The point was that people tend to stay in their social comfort zone and get along with people that seem familiar and similar socioeconomic identities.

It is obvious and scientifically proven that diversity can increase innovations, creativity, and problem-solving abilities, as Katherine W. Phillips discussed (“How Diversity Makes us Smarter”) Also as our society has become more culturally, ethnically, religiously diverse, diversity matters for not only practical reasons but also for ethical and philosophical reasons. However, it is also very difficult to embrace diversity in reality, if it is not informational diversity in particular. Let me illustrate my observation of tension that social diversity has brought. It was through my research on community gardens. I have four case study sites with different characteristics. One of my findings from those four cases was that strong sense of community emerged in a community garden that is composed of more homogeneous neighbors. On the other hand, one community garden, which was territorially embedded in one neighborhood, encountered tensions and conflicts because the organization that operated the community garden brought gardeners from outside of the neighborhood. Original gardeners wanted to keep the garden for their own neighborhood’ asset and did not want to mingle with outside people. Eventually, most neighborhood gardeners had left and the community garden ended up being isolated from that neighborhood. I cannot say that this is the case for every community garden, but it was really hard to integrate socioeconomically and ethnically different group of people in those community venues.

The scientific results Katherine W. Phillips suggested are mostly the cases in workplaces, education, higher levels of decision-making and teamwork, which require more information and innovation, not in informal social relationships. As the TED speaker, I mentioned earlier, pointed out, our desire to be with people like us and maintain the status quo might be a big hurdle to engage with diversity.