At an early age, I learned, that one of the first steps we can take to understanding diversity, is beginning to identify and unlearn old beliefs, behaviours, and actions that have been etched in our mindsets but are no longer serving us or our community. I needed to develop skills and new ways of thinking. I had to unlearn to relearn how I thought and was taught. For a five-year-old Brian, starting kindergarten, whose first and long-time friend was Sikh, the unlearning process was about to begin.
Growing up, we tend to see the world through our own biased lenses. Since we all were the products of our environments and our education, we have been taught what to think, not how to think. Diversity becomes transformative when we strive to see the world from another person’s viewpoint. We must cultivate throughout time to genuinely understand ourselves and other people better. My re-education process started by creating time to actively listen with an open mind to people’s stories, their pain, and their trauma without becoming defensive. I began to evaluate my talk-to-listen ratio more than ever as I could see these were defining moments, which will restructure my mindset and allow me to learn. When we all truly begin to acknowledge the continued journey of inequality and injustice in this world, we can then start and do everything in our power to become part of the solution. As I’ve lived in Asia, spoken for the homeless, fought for gay rights, and was raised with blinded eyes, my time for learning started with 5-year-old Brian and continues today.
I feel our community is at a critical crossroads that will require trailblazing creativity, forward-thinking, courage, and empathy. Two of the most important words right now are WE and US. For fundamental change to occur, we must be willing to have authentic conversations. That’s not always easy. Real and honest discussions can be uncomfortable because they force us to stand in truth. Most of us are not ready to have these raw, challenging, and uncomfortable conversations with ourselves and others because they confront our identity and our belief systems. It questions how we were raised, I was raised, and brings to light old truth vs. new truth, old world vs. new world, old stories vs. new stories, old habits vs. new habits, and old thinking vs. new thinking.
Throughout life and my travels, I’ve begun to understand there is no more appropriate and dire time to practice self-leadership and listen. If I cannot lead myself, I will never be able to change people’s biased thinking and lead others. As someone who believes in community and wellness for all, self-leadership is in my control every day as I’m bestowed with the gift of life. My words must be manifested in my behaviour. Anything short of that, and we are all living a lie.
So how did 5-year-old Brian meet this unique moment in time? I learned we must start with ourselves and start doing our part. Correcting our antiquated thought process, our wrongdoings start with our behaviour. Change first begins with acknowledgment, self-education, and self-awareness. This is something white privilege is not taught. I learned early, that how I show up today will determine tomorrow’s progress. With each day I look to capture the minds, hearts, and commitment of my community, not merely by my words but by my actions.
But if we do not understand, recognize, and unlearn to relearn, there will be no unified growth and future. To create meaningful reform, I have to, we have to reassess the roles we will play when speaking about diversity. Five-year-old Brian was not allowed to play with his lifelong friend Suki outside of school and had to unlearn to learn why. Today I live a fully committed life to understanding how as a global community of consciousness, being positive change agents, and a positive difference makers in as many lives as possible will allow diversity to shine. It starts by providing a platform for individuals to speak while I/we listen and learn.
Five-year-old Brian was born into a household unfamiliar with diversity. Today I embrace diversity, listens, and continues to unlearn to relearn. Anthony Bourdain once said, “I urge you to travel – as far and as widely possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat, and cook. Learn from them – wherever you go.” My life has been dedicated to learning, sleeping on floors, world travel, and unlearning to relearn.
Working together, diversity will mean understanding, recognizing and valuing the differences that make each person unique.
By Brian Nadon