Lessons from DEI Changemakers: The Beauty of Messiness

In her latest post on the #makingairwaves blog, Mary Coleman shares lessons about integrating DEI into an organization’s culture learned through her participation in a DEI Changemakers program.

Last week, I started a 12-week program from Metamorphosis called DEI Changemakers. While we have only spent a couple of hours together as small squares on a screen thanks to Zoom, I already feel deeply connected to a community that also strives for equitable change as quickly as possible.

We started by choosing one of several images that represent our own journeys to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) work. We chose a picture for our individual reasons, each feeling connected to a core element of an image. We also recognized how each image’s distinct attributes reflect the beauty in diversity. This distinction was visible not only from one image to another but also in how each one had many elements come together to make a work of art.

A collage of artistic pictures

Image Description: A collection of nine (9) images. From top left, clockwise: a ballerina with a burst of purple color as a tutu on a white background; two (2) faces outlined on a pink background; a white, yellow, blue, and red bird sitting on a branch on a light blue background; six (6) hands in multiple poses with pink and red splotches on a yellow background; an abstract face with blocks of color for each feature; a deer with large antlers decorated with flowers and birds with a blurred forest background; an elephant swimming toward a small island, with the majority underwater; an abstract line and splotch painting, mainly in pinks and blues; and a person standing at the end of a wooden path next to a lamppost, looking into a circle of clouds.

This reflection of diversity through art and color made me think specifically of impressionism. I see how our own differences are like each swipe in an impressionist painting, such as Claude Monet’s The Water Lily Pond. Each stroke might not be the straightest nor the color the brightest, but when viewed together they become entrancing.

When I admire paintings like this, I find myself wanting to at once step back to take it all in and to lean in to analyze each individual swatch. I am literally on my toes in anticipation of seeing more every time I pull away or go in for details. I find experiences like this thrilling, like being in an in-between.

When moving between the big picture and details, my vision gets blurry. The faster I move, the messier it looks. In the refocusing, though, new things emerge that ultimately bring me to a more profound, nuanced understanding of how the strokes fit together.

It is in messy moments like this when the world blurs and you need to refocus, that new perspectives and truths develop. For me, these messy moments arise when my impatience takes over and I get bogged in frustration over inaction; when my anxiety takes over and I get caught in toxic thought cycles; and when my realism (or maybe it’s pessimism?) takes over and I get mired in disdain.

I am also at my messiest when my imagination runs free and I paint new worlds on canvas; when my curiosity runs free and I discover a fun trivia tidbit, and when my compassion runs free and I act with more kindness toward myself and others.

When I recognize that I am in a messy, in-between moment, whether from a place of irritation or inspiration, I can now find a lesson. I ask myself if my response is aligned with my values. In this interrogation, I always learn something about how I view the world and interact with my surroundings. I learn to appreciate my messiness as a main component of my growth and what makes me unique.

Our first expert voice in the program, Lily Zheng, implored us to truly appreciate and comprehend individuals’ contributions to any community. In this understanding, we can better align and support the social change we wish to generate. I look forward to exploring how my own messiness works in parallel with this amazing group of people to make DEI an integral part of all cultures and organizations.