by Dr. Tommy Darwin
Over the last several years working with individuals, organizations, and communities, I’ve come to think of diversity as the ground of resilience and the ability to just keep moving.
When we are truly up against it, facing a tough situation, we need ideas that have the best chance of working, quickly. The best way to find those ideas is for them to come from people in our group who have actually tried them or have experience with them. This is also certainly true in our daily processes, when we have time to breathe and think. It’s just that it becomes even particularly clear in those moments when we are not necessarily even sure what is going on but we still have to act.
Here’s a simple example of what I’m talking about. In the movie “The Day After Tomorrow” there is a scene in which the main characters are in the New York Public Library talking about how best to use the paper from the books as fuel for fires so they can keep warm. Meanwhile, “Luther,” who is homeless, is stuffing his clothes with paper, using the paper as insulation. He knows to do this because of his experience having to stay warm living on the street. Though he’s on the fringe, or perhaps because he’s on the fringe of the group, he has an answer to their very immediate and very pressing problem. An answer they likely would not have come up with very quickly, if at all.
In my own work with groups and communities, it is almost always the case that the way forward comes either from someone who has or has come to have a very different perspective, seems to be on the fringe of the group in some way, or most often someone who has simply not been asked for their opinion or ideas. And, the sense of diversity that makes groups adaptive goes beyond the usual categories we think of when we think of diversity. In addition to people with cultural and ethnic diversity, we need people with a diversity of experiences, networks, capabilities, passions, and commitments.
Most importantly, we need to hold open spaces in which it is safe for someone to express their views or ideas, especially from a perspective that is out of the ordinary or contrary to the prevalent view. In my experience helping people find a path forward, the best place to start is with someone who is closest to the issue as it is “lived” everyday, and who has not been asked for their ideas on what to do.
This very often means someone who is outside the “brain trust” or the strategic leadership group. Not that leaders don’t have an important perspective. They are just usually the ones who are need of a new perspective. And, they are the ones most likely to live in an echo chamber in which no one wants to challenge the received view (because it is usually the view of whomever is in charge).
So, yes, we need to cultivate and take care of diversity in our groups, communities, and neighborhoods, but not just because it’s the right thing to do, or because we value being inclusive, though we should. Taking care of diverse people and perspectives in our work and our lives is perhaps the single best way we can keep our lives and work resilient and meaningful.
Appreciations from Dr. Lisa Leit, HWH Founder
This week I would like to thank my dear friend, mentor, and colleague Dr. Tommy Darwin for serving as a guest blogger for HAPPY WHOLE HUMAN! While HAPPY WHOLE HUMAN serves as a completely private virtual healing space for individuals to relax and improve their lives and most important relationships, Tommy works primarily with groups and communities. In this way, his work serves as a vital extension of the HAPPY WHOLE HUMAN goals and mission.
Dr. Tommy Darwin,
Community Catalyst and Change Consultant
Q: Tommy, tell us about yourself!
A: In professional terms, I have extensive experience designing and delivering programming that focuses on engagement with real world challenges, developing practical capabilities and capacities, and engaging deeper community and organizational systems. My expertise draws from many different fields including Innovation, Design, Entrepreneurship, and Community Change.
Q: What is your professional background?
A: I have held many academic positions including Director of Professional Development and Community Engagement in UT’s Graduate School, Director of Community Partnerships for UT, and Director of UT’s highly regarded Intellectual Entrepreneurship Consortium. I was also a tenured Associate Professor at The University of Memphis. I was a founder and principal for Avail Design Group and a creator of GoGuide, a web-based software application that helps people make their best ideas real.
Q: If you had to sum up what you do, what would you say?
A: In terms of what I actually do, I am a teacher. I help people see connections in themselves and in their worlds, decide where and how they want to move, help them gather and develop the resources and capabilities they need, and then help them keep moving. My own greatest teachers are my two sons.
Again Tommy, thank you for this insightful call to action and for your important work to raise the consciousness of individuals in their community dynamics.
Have a great week everyone and remember, whether you realize it or not…It’s Happening!