A term I hadn’t seen much popped up in an email last week: false equivalency.
The term was used in an account of an assault on an activist associated with the group, MoveOn.org, by a supporter of Rand Paul’s Senate campaign. You’ve probably seen it.
Paul’s campaign put out a statement condemning violence “on both sides.”
A video of the incident showed the activist, a woman in glasses, being pushed to the ground and held down by at least two people. She couldn’t move. Another man put his foot on her head. Then, he stomped. Later news reports indicated the woman received a mild concussion and multiple sprains.
False equivalency says that carrying a sign with an agenda is the same as physical violence.
To say emotions have run high during the U.S. mid-term elections is a laughable understatement. Both sides have played to this intensity and negativity. This is true equivalency.
Dogma on the left and dogma on the right are both still dogma. Neither distortion by front-runners nor distortion by underdogs is accurate information.
False equivalency is when language is used, hedged or crafted so that it obscures critical distinctions.
False equivalency justifies behavior that’s over the line. It blurs the line, or pretends there is no line. False equivalency confuses us and keeps us from seeing or knowing the difference.
The point of this story for diversity in the workplace is this: diversity doesn’t mean “anything goes”. To get work done, people of different attributes, backgrounds, cultures, identities and ideas must bring their differences together constructively in service of the mission they share.
Standards of behavior and ethics help that happen.
When we encourage vigorous – and rigorous – exchange of ideas guided by a common goal, we come up with new and better solutions to the most vexing problems. Remember Chile?
Diversity of perspectives, opinions and approaches is essential to innovation. It is essential to productive problem-solving. And it doesn’t mean “anything goes” – in our companies, communities or country.
No individual is independent from the cultures in which s/he works and lives. Nor is any organization – large or small, local or global – independent of the environment in which it functions. After national elections in the U.S. today, people will be hard-pressed to harness their differences in service of the society we share. However, neither false equivalencies – nor false dichotomies – will help get there.
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