CN Academics Corner

Celebrating Negativity Part 3 – The Invisible Power of “Againstness”

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The difference between correct and incorrect is a prefix. The same can be true more broadly for differentiating negative terms and positive terms.  Let’s consider a few.

It’s difficult to get our heads around the idea that we’re all the same because we’re all different.  Substituting “unique” for “different” may not help much.  The cornerstone or foundation stone term of art in “Diversity” is “differences,” and the practice of Diversity is centered on their management.  Though many would argue that “difference” is neither intrinsically positive nor negative, it is rooted in otherness, not sameness. It gets worse from there.  That cornerstone meaning has its effect on the entire structure and nature of the industry and the thought processes within.

To get a sense of it on the surface, click over to my favorite online dictionary/thesaurus, to look up “different.”  The synonyms that encircled it were “unlike, antithetic[al], contrary, disparate, dissimilar, divergent, diametric[al], incompatible, polar, opposite, diverse, contrasting…”  None of  those felt like terms of endearment.

It was a bit discouraging and disheartening to think that I could be all those things…all those negatives terms and feelings wrapped up in a single word…different. They are all rooted in the fundamental sense of being “against.” The againstness of it flavors Diversity’s “otherness” paradigm as being predominantly negative.

In the visual generated by the thesaurus, the cornerstone term in the language of Diversity, “different” is literally surrounded by negatives, synonymous with a framework of negatives.  (Try the word “difference” as well.) The key is in the prefixes, each of them termed negative prefixes from the Greek and Latin language roots.

Another of the synonyms, diametric, ads an important dimension to the inherent meanings in the term “different.” The Greek prefix, diá (preposition), means through, across, akin to dýo two and di- di1] as in the word, diameter, a line dividing a circle into two separate parts, or dual sections. That is not one of the negative prefixes, but it has implications in the divisive language of Diversity. We’ll come back to that later.

Do most people consciously get the visual circle of negative synonyms for ‘different’ when made to feel different? Not often, if at all.  Still, with all the recent news about unconscious bias, we certainly shouldn’t rule out the great probability of unconscious implicit association and recognition of negatives in the language we speak when talking about the “others.” Its a kind of phonological awareness that enables the recognition of the underlying sense of a word, even if you’ve not consciously associated it with a meaning.

Whether or not we consciously and/or intellectually recognize those synonyms when made to feel “different,” we likely get that rock in our gut, the negative sensation of the “againstness” of others in the room, or on the team, in the company, the neighborhood…or in the country. The force of negatives is culturally varied, but that force is organic and inexorable, at the same time firmly rooted in the language promulgated and deployed by Diversity consultants and managers.

Working to make “differences” synonymous with positive terms is swimming upstream against a linguistic and cultural current that reinforces the negatives Diversity’s cornerstone concept.  Based on what we can see about the nature of negative prefixes, can Diversity professionals convert natural negatives like “different” or “differences” into synonyms of positive terms? Or could that pursuit be the equivalent of linguistic alchemy?

We’ll examine those questions in Celebrating Negativity Part 4.




© Copyright 2013 – Robert D. Jones  – All Rights Reserved

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