No Need for Tolerance When We’re All the Same

March 2011

Homogeneity of ideas, beliefs and traditions sure makes it easier to live together. It is easy to see why people who are somewhat alike tend to hang out together, be that a neighborhood, community, club or other social circle.

But the world is not homogeneous. We differ from our global brothers and sisters in many ways externally. We differ in race, ethnicity, religion, gender, ideology to name a few.

Most forward thinkers agree that if humanity is to evolve to a higher road of functionality we must learn to do it together, in collaboration. This requires us to transcend these differences and prejudices in order to embrace them – and it needn’t be out of idealism or noble intent.

With diversity comes great wisdom, greater wisdom than any of us would generate on our own. What you say? How could that be?

When there is no hierarchy enforcing a specific way of thinking or acting, a diverse group of people will consistently come up with wiser choices and decisions than any “panel of experts” who are prone to groupthink.

James Surowiecki
Financial Editor
The New Yorker

Don’t believe me? Read The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki and perhaps you will change your views. In the book, the author demonstrates how group decisions are far wiser when the process meets certain characteristics – non-hierarchal, diversity and independence of opinions, decentralization and aggregation. Decisions made this way are far wiser than when “those in the know” are exclusively consulted, a practice we tend to think of as the best in contemporary thinking.

One example the author cites in the book stuck with me. He compares two NASA crises, one that ended tragically and another where disaster was avoided. In the 1960s, NASA engineers came from diverse backgrounds and disciplines. When the Apollo 13 crisis occurred scores of people were sought out to seek solutions to the pending disaster of losing all three astronauts. Without enforcing authority, wisdom was gleaned from many perspectives and, thankfully, they were able to create a means to bring the spaceship home safely. In contrast, Surowiecki point out, was the Challenger disaster of 2003, where the engineers went into groupthink, prompted by a decision at the top that the foam strike to the Shuttle’s fuselage was “inconsequential.”

The first case was a case of “the wisdom of crowds” while the second was the result of hierarchical decision-making and groupthink.

Differences make us a smarter crowd and that diversity empowers us to achieve what experts may not be able to do. Our differences are quite superficial when you get to the core of what it means to be a human being – we are all the same inside. The same blood flows through our veins. Family is important to us all as are our needs for safety and belonging. Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” applies to all human beings, regardless of our heritage or upbringings.

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John Renesch

John is a seasoned businessman-turned-futurist who has published 14 books and hundreds of articles on social and organizational transformation.

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