Helping Youth to Develop Tolerance and Appreciation for Diversity
(Adapted from Leadership 101: Developing Leadership Skills for Resilient Youth, Facilitator’s Guide by Mariam MacGregor, Youthleadership.com, 2000. Used with permission.)
Initial questions to begin the discussion
Why is it important for a leader to be tolerant of people's differences?
- What is the impact on an organization or group if a leader is not aware of his or her biases and prejudices?
- How can the behavior of a leader, i.e. prejudices or appreciation of the differences of others, influence everyone else in the group?
- Who has had the greatest influence in your life--positively or negatively—regarding the issue of prejudice?
The "Awareness Stretch"
Each level of the "stretch" represents a step we move through as we grow in understanding people who are different from us. It is called a stretch because when we are honest with ourselves, often we find we need to stretch out of our comfort zones in order to grow in understanding differences in others. The differences we have with others can include cultural, racial, economic, ethic or gender differences.
Non-Aware: This level describes someone who does not know differences exist. An example would be a young child who does not understand that there are differences in family traditions or cultures, or who has never met someone from another country. A person in this category is simply naïve or inexperienced.
Awareness: This category describes someone who realizes there are differences between people because they have observed differences. After becoming aware, a person can choose to either deny that differences exist, or move towards acceptance of differences.
Denial: This level describes someone who chooses to ignore the fact that differences exist. If a person chooses denial, violence and discrimination can occur because the person continues behaviors that deny the contributions and characteristics of others.
Acceptance: This level describes when a person takes another step through the stretch by accepting that people have a right to be diverse.
Understanding: This level takes acceptance even further as the person continues to find out more about the differences of others through friendships, reading, research, traveling, reflection, etc.
Appreciation: This level describes someone who has moved beyond understanding to celebration of differences. People in this category seek to learn from people who are different from them.
Suggested Ways to Use the "Awareness Stretch"
- Brainstorm with your group about the ways people can differ from each other, such as: nationality, gender, sexual orientation, race, economics, education, handicaps, religion, etc. Break the class into groups of 3 that are (ideally) somewhat diverse. Have each group pick one specific type of difference, such as someone who is from Koreaor someone who is handicapped. The group should walk through each of the steps, describing behaviors that would be demonstrated at each level towards a person with that difference. In addition, describe what a person would do to move up each level on the stretch in regards to someone with that difference. Encourage the groups to be as specific as possible. For example, instead of suggesting "read a book about culture," identify a specific book to read.
- Have each person individually reflect on where they are on this scale with the following groups: African Americans, Latino Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, European Americans, Gay/Lesbians, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Women, Men, Shy People, Handicapped People and Immigrants. Have each person pick one or two people groups towards whom they need to move further along on the awareness stretch spectrum and brainstorm some concrete steps they could take to move to the next level. Have them examine how their feelings about/reactions towards people in those groups can powerfully affect the type of leader they become. Encourage them to be as specific as possible.