Diversity is Uncomfortable

Joshua Belhumeur
BRINK
Published in
2 min readMay 19, 2022

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Jonathan Haidt’s recent piece in the The Atlantic titled “Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid” has a lot of interesting insights from the prominent social psychologist. To summarize one bit:

A “Hidden Tribes” study of 8,000 Americans identified seven groups that shared beliefs and behaviors. The two loudest, most polarized and most prolific on social media represent “progressive activists” and “devoted conservatives”.

These two groups have more in common than you think. They are the whitest and richest of the seven groups. What’s more, they are the two groups that show the greatest homogeneity in their moral and political attitudes. Why? Probably, in part, because those who express sympathy for the views of opposing groups often experience backlash from their own cohort.

What struck me most is that making space for more nuanced or dissenting ideas is not only how we become smarter and more informed, this study suggests it also promotes a more equitable and inclusive marketplace of ideas. Which makes perfect sense, of course, yet easily gets lost.

One problem is that in the social media age, speech has become less a tool to persuade people and more a means to signal to others what social group you belong to. Words and ideas are often how tribal lines are drawn and our lizard brains interpret disagreement as a sign of danger: beware, that’s the enemy. Now your anxiety is heightened. Your heart starts beating. Your breathing shallower. You’re on high alert.

Disagreement literally causes us physical and mental discomfort.

We are best served acknowledging this reality and its implications on our institutions, social spaces and workplaces. While we reckon with legitimately unwelcome causes of social discomfort like harassment or marginalization, let’s make sure we don’t misinterpret that to mean conformity or discouraging people from making good faith, but unpopular arguments.

A truly diverse environment is going to sometimes feel uncomfortable. That’s okay. The pain is how you know it’s working.

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Joshua Belhumeur
BRINK

Managing Partner & Creative Director at BRINK, the creative agency for activist brands