The American society can move ideas, products, and capital across geographic borders in milliseconds, but it has not meaningfully prepared Americans to deal with the divergent worldviews and agendas brought on by disruptive change. Our pressing challenge is not whether we can negotiate or resolve the conflicts arising from our identity-based differences, such as race, gender, religion, generations, geography, social class, national origin, politics and sexual identity. Right now the challenge is to ensure the fabric of the American society holds together long enough for us to unite around identifying solutions. We have to adapt and fight for unity.
One thing is clear – the heightened conflict about our national identity has led to fundamental questions about the future vitality and viability of our diverse nation. The identity-based clashes we experience lead to fear and polarization within the American society and too many retreat to the safety of tribes that do not agree on core values and principles. Persistent inequities and internal and external identity-based conflicts occur continuously within the American society. Each new battle has a destabilizing impact on the workplace, communities and the well being of individuals on all sides of the conflicts. If identity and cultural conflicts continue unabated, they will build on one another, become normal, and eventually shred the fabric of our diverse society. It is possible that someday people will look back and ask “Why didn’t they do anything?”
Society has to come to find solutions to deal with identity-based division and the scary reality that rapidly changing technology, migration, demographics and economies also change the relationships between people. Some of our citizens desire to recapture nostalgic memories of how people related to one another in the past, but there will be no return, however, to a previous version of normal. At the same time if we cannot successfully link inclusion to the values of patriotism and national unity we will continue to talk past those who perceive diversity and inclusion as threats to their futures and their more traditional worldview.
Today’s learning about identity must help Americans live in a world where waves of disruptive technological and social change will continue to uproot us from old social anchors and cultural norms. We need new approaches and skills to manage real time social and organizational identity-based conflicts before they spin out of control causing more disunity.
We have to think differently about how to navigate today’s grittier, unpredictable and more polarized identity environment. Many old diversity-related approaches will not work today. They were born in the 80’s and 90’s under entirely different societal circumstances. Today, intense partisan disagreements about the values and agendas related to equality, diversity, inclusion, and multiculturalism are openly politicized. To respond we have to see the three fundamental values of diversity, inclusion, and unity as inextricably linked to securing a more cohesive and strong American identity.