By Sharon A. White
In the TV spots we see about The United Methodist Church, we hear a voice say "Open hearts, Open minds, Open doors. The people of The United Methodist Church." How "open" are we?
In The South Indiana Conference, we have commissions, committees and boards that address people with disabilities, church and society, ethnic local church concerns, Hispanic ministries, HIV/AIDS, children's homes, Native Americans, racial healing, religion and race, the status and role of women, children, youth and young adults. These are just some of the areas of concern that we as United Methodists in South Indiana are passionate about. However, someone may be thinking, "Well, if we are conscious of all of these differences, what do we need to be trained for? Exactly what would we do with diversity training? Does it mean I will get beat up about how I think and feel? Is this a Black or White thing? Does it mean I've been doing something wrong? I treat people like I would want to be treated. Shouldn't that be enough?"
Unfortunately, that may not be enough, because what we consider respectful or not may differ from someone else's viewpoint. What we think is a positive gesture may be a negative gesture for someone else. Or someone's behavior may seem normal to one person, but to another may be insulting.
For example, in the mid-90s when my mother and I lived together I used to take her to the ophthalmologist whenever she had an appointment. After one of those visits to the Emory University Hospital Clinic, my mother said to me, "Sharon, did you notice that when the doctor explained everything about my health he always looked at you and not me?" I didn't realize that until she pointed it out. Understand, my mother was in great mental health. She didn't need an interpreter. I took her because she had glaucoma and was physically unable to take herself.
Likewise, diversity training helps us all to become more aware and appreciative of the differences in people with whom we come in contact. Diversity is not only about Blacks and Whites. Diverse environments also include: women, men, single and married folk, people who are physically challenged, people who come from different cultures, nations, backgrounds, people who are gay, old people, young people, economically diverse people, tall, short, fat, skinny people - all kinds of people!
Diversity training helps us to broaden our perspectives and opens our hearts and minds to receive the gifts of others and share ours as well. Diversity training provides great opportunities for us to learn about people and to know who they really are instead of labeling them based on things that may not be true.
In the coming months, I will seek volunteers for a pilot group to include all kinds of people to participate in an on-line training program that we may promote later. If you would be interested in being part of this group, call me at the South Indiana Conference Center at 800-919-8160 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.