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Acceptance...do you have what it takes?

DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- No one person is alike. They come in all shapes, sizes, colors, genders and have different views on religious, political and sexual preferences, and they are judged unnecessarily because of it. You may not agree with someone's preferences, but the thing is that you don't have to agree. You do, however, have to be professional, courteous and inherently aware of how you might come across others.

I was once in a meeting some time ago where a hot button topic referring to diversity was being discussed. People had all sorts of reactions; shoving their papers, grunting and flat out disagreeing (loudly), while some just sat in silence because they were afraid to speak up. They didn't want to be "different." What an unbelievable word, D-I-F-F-E-R-E-N-T. Newsflash, we are all different. No one human being is the same and this should be celebrated because it's nothing to be afraid of.

In this situation, the troubling thing was that none of these Airmen (including me) realized that the very issue they were bickering about was causing one of their fellow wingmen in the room to suffer in silence. The very people he trusted had become the enemy. He felt alone, depressed and unsure if anyone would have his back if he spoke up. The foolish thing was I just sat there listening, not thinking that this issue and the way it was handled was going to affect anyone in the room in a negative way. I was so unbelievably wrong. The Airman approached me after the meeting, visibly upset and looking for reassurance on how to make things right. He didn't want one of his fellow wingmen to ever feel what he felt that day. How unbelievably brave. This Airman was willing to stand up in the face of diversity and speak up. His speaking up educated the masses and will definitely help Airmen down the line. If that's not a leader, I don't know what is. It was a moment that has literally shaken me and has given me the "gut-check" I obviously deserved. I must add that no one in the room that day intentionally meant to offend anyone, but it's no excuse because we obviously did.

Somehow it's been imbedded into our minds that those who are "different" must convince "us" that they are valuable team members. I find this mentality to be unprofessional and disruptive to good order, discipline and morale. The problem is that we often ask ourselves, "how will this affect me?" versus, "how does being 'different' affect my wingman?" Our beloved Air Force was built on diversity and it detracts from the mission when non-acceptance takes center stage. I've heard people say they cannot control their reactions in response to something they do not agree with. However, I challenge this statement. You may not be able to control your thinking, but you can definitely control your outward behavior. The military forces us to exercise military bearing every single day and as Airmen, we should own it. The main point I took from this particular situation is educating yourself about diversity will bring about change. We begin changing the day we're born. So, do you want to be the individual who halts progress or do you want to be the Airman who propels it into the future? Accept your wingman for what they bring to the mission. Nothing else really matters.

"If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity." ― John F. Kennedy

Original content found here.
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