In the field of diversity training, where I do a good bit of work, I’ve developed a self-evaluation component for people to consider. Your participation can help you determine what your typical modus operandi is when you encounter difference, disagreement and derision. (How do you like that alliteration?)
Currently, the main elements of difference in the U.S. revolve around politics and race, but there are many aspects of diversity that can surface depending on what is happening in the country and self-earound the world. Things can get oppositional around veterans’ affairs, disabilities, religion, age, sports, ethnicities and more. The list is endless. Remember the conflict about the perception you had of a blue and black dress—or was it a white and gold dress?
I will present seven characters with their pros and cons, as well as when it might be best to take on that persona. In the end, you can look at the ones you gravitate toward in different situations, why you choose them and if there would be a different choice you’d like to make.
Lion: When you are a lion, you go on the offensive: sometimes to win, other times to protect. The pros are that you often dominate, unless you are going against another lion. In that case you could win or lose. You feel strong, justified and righteous in your perspective. You can usually scare your opponents into backing down by the mere threat of attack. On the other hand, your relationships with people may suffer. Your aggressive nature tends to separate you from others who think differently than you. Because of this, you may end up with the regret of damaged or lost relationships over pedagogy. With aggression, you may get either feigned compliance or belligerence. Some people will do what you want while you are threatening and watching, but as soon as the immediate threat is gone, they’ll return to what they want to do. Alternatively, when you push others into your way of thinking, they might become belligerent to prove their ideology cannot be changed by your threats or aggression. The time to be a lion is when you are standing up for someone who is weaker, someone without a voice.
Elephant: When you are an elephant, you stand firm in your beliefs and opinions. No one can budge you or get you to change your mind. You refuse to give in and feel justified in not compromising in any way. You stand strong for what you believe. On the other side, you haven’t actually “won” anything; you simply refuse to yield any ground. Your relationships can suffer because of your close-minded belligerence. You won’t change your opinion, even in the face of evidence to the contrary, because it’s more important to you to stand strong than to consider new information that would cause you know you’ve been wrong. The time to be an elephant is in the face of lots of pressure to change your opinions with no substantive arguments, evidence or experience to the contrary.
Horse: When you are a horse, at the first sign of conflict or a challenging conversation, you run. The benefits of running help you avoid conflict and possibly preserve your relationships. You can avoid discourse: You don’t have to take a stand and show people who you are. The downside of being the horse is that you may resent keeping silent. You could end up resenting the other person for bringing up controversial topics you don’t like to talk about. As a horse, you live in fear of certain topics coming up in conversation. The time to take on a horse persona is when you are in someone else’s territory and know there is nothing you can do or say to have an impact. It might be better to walk away than to have an unpleasant exchange, particularly when this person is important to you.
Chameleon: When you are a chameleon, you can change color in different environments. You can argue many sides of an argument to fit in with whomever you are speaking with. This allows you to avoid conflict: You can preserve your relationships, maintaining the image of yourself as a kind person. The downside is that no one truly knows who you are and what you believe. You don’t allow yourself to articulate what you believe. Finally, you may create conflict within yourself because either you don’t know who you are or you lose respect for yourself for not standing up for your values and beliefs. The time to be a chameleon is when your most important goal is keeping the peace or when you have no real interest in the topic being discussed.
Ostrich: As the ostrich, you have the uncanny ability to stick your head in the sand and ignore everything happening around you. The benefit of this is that you truly are oblivious to what is really happening, so you get to believe what you want to tell yourself about what is happening. This will put a strain on your relationships, with some people seeing you as either naïve, uneducated or stupid, and others viewing you as weak. It can be good to be an ostrich when your goal is to be oblivious because you think what’s happening around you is none of your business and you shouldn’t, or don’t want to, be involved.
Snake: As the snake, you pretty much keep to yourself until your boundaries are breeched and then you can make a deadly strike. You escape most conflicts, but you don’t allow others to hurt you or those close to you. You can overcome or devastate your opponent. On the other hand, if you want to stay safe, you need to stay under cover. People tend to not like or respect you for your sneaky and unpredictable nature. Finally, you need to time your strike perfectly to be effective. Being the snake can be good when you would rather not be involved but you also know you have lines you won’t let others cross without standing up for yourself.
Hawk: Being the hawk means you have the skill to fly and see things others can’t. This allows you to see things from different perspectives and higher vantage points. Problems don’t look as bad from a distance, and you may influence and be influenced by what you see. On the other side, it can be scary seeing the things you do; you may find you are alone, in a category all by yourself, where no one really understands you, and you might be wrong sometimes. The best time to be a hawk is when you want to have influence with others.
Which one or ones do you personify? Are you proud to be who you are in the circumstances you find yourself? Do you aspire to be someone different in some situations? Are you interested in learning how to take on the persona of a different animal? Taking an honest look at who you are is the first step. Setting the goal of who you want to be is the second. What step will you take to move from who you are now to whom you aspire to be? Just one step… it will lead to another, and another… until you arrive at the person you want to be. On your mark, get set… GO!!!