Build empathy; Diversity will follow: Kaustubh Sonalkar

Build empathy; Diversity will follow: Kaustubh Sonalkar
Build empathy; Diversity will follow: Kaustubh Sonalkar

Build empathy; Diversity will follow: Kaustubh Sonalkar

Our worst fears are coming true in Afghanistan, a nation that now finds itself alone, scared, and overpowered. Yesterday saw the last of the evacuation flights leave Afghan soil from Kabul, marking the end of the Unites States’ two-decade-long conflict in Afghanistan, its longest war ever.

In this scenario, last Sunday, 98 countries promised to take in Afghans fleeing from their own country – giving the world hope that large numbers of refugees will get a second chance at a free and fair life. While it is certainly heartening to see more than half of the countries in the world opening their doors to strangers in need, this is just the beginning of a mammoth task in offering fleeing Afghans a new and equitable life. It’s one thing to allow people into your home, and quite another to accord them a respectable life, equal to your own. Giving new people a place in your country would mean sharing not just space, but also resources – some of which may be scarce. Some people may also be concerned about culture or security issues arising from the arrival of diverse sets of people on their soil.

But let us consider this. What if we re-orient our perspectives to observe and identify the strengths people from different cultures can bring? How about we look at what we can learn and how much richer our personal experiences become when we interact with people far removed from our usual circle of friends and family? Organizations have long extolled the virtues of bringing together multi-cultural teams to work together; in the hope of getting creative solutions to problems. The same can be said about culturally diverse cities the world over.

Multi-lingual children are seen as sharper students, and eventually more empathetic team players when they enter the professional world. The largest cities in the world bring together people from different countries, innovators from different age groups, and influencers of different genders. A diverse community is undoubtedly a richer one.

As we stand at the threshold of a world that is opening its arms to immigrants, our work has just begun. We may have activated diversity, but inclusiveness is the next imperative for everyone to realize their highest potential. Several world leaders that have shaped the course of nations have been descendants of immigrants. Had people not welcomed them home all those generations ago, the world would be a very different, and might I add, a less bright place today.

The much-loved ex-President of the United States, Barack Obama, was a second-generation immigrant. His father was African and his mother was of English, German, Irish, Swiss, Scottish and Welsh descent. As the person behind ‘Obamacare’, the auto bailout, and the civil rights accorded to gay and lesbian persons, Obama has undoubtedly changed the course of the most powerful country in the world.

Google co-founder, Russian-American Sergey Brin, is another case in point. His parents had to move out of the Soviet Union due to anti-Semitism in the 1970s. They moved to Vienna and Paris before moving to the US, and the rest, as they say, is history.

However, the point is not that the world needs to be empathetic in the hope of welcoming the next innovator onto their shores. Empathy makes a better person even of the one displaying it. An act of kindness enriches both the giver and the receiver, and as we increasingly see – makes perfect business sense as well. Diversity spurs growth, imagination, innovation, and all things good. At work, as in life, empathetic leaders are the most successful. Progressive policies like flexible working hours, remote working, global teams, non-hierarchical structures and more, give talent the room they need to grow.

In these times, as we brace for a new order of business, for newer opportunities and different ways of using our skills and talent – let us keep our minds open and our wits about us. Empathy, creativity, experimentation, and grit will take us places.

I’d like to end with this –

“Learning to stand in somebody else’s shoes, to see through their eyes, that’s how peace begins. And it’s up to you to make that happen. Empathy is a quality of character that can change the world.”
Barack Obama

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