A few weeks ago, my wife and I were in Atlanta on vacation. I had been excited for years to go to Atlanta. Not only is the city wonderful (my wife raves about it after having lived there for two years as a graduate student at Georgia Tech), but it’s one of two cities with the “Trifecta”: A ballpark, a Presidential Library, and a State Capitol building.
I enjoyed going to all three, with the icing on top being an Atlanta United vs. DC United game at Mercedes Benz Stadium, which is one of, if not the best place I have ever seen a sporting event. But it was an exhibit at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum that made me think and want to learn more.
The Carter library has an entire exhibit on the Israeli-Egyptian peace process, facilitated by Carter, which took place at Camp David. The exhibit describes the 13-day marathon negotiation that yielded peace between Israel and Egypt. The exhibit displays copies of President Carter’s notes about the personalities of the other two country’s leaders; Prime Minister Menachem Begin from Israel and President Anwar Sadat from Egypt and many pictures and artifacts from the summit.
Ultimately, the long negotiation concluded with peace between two neighboring countries, who were previously in an almost constant state of war. The exhibit alone was not enough to satisfy my curiosity, so I read the book Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David by Lawrence Wright.
My main takeaway from the book is that the outcome of a peace treaty from the summit was nothing short of a miracle. The three principle leaders had to set aside both ancient and modern history and religious beliefs just to begin negotiations. The outcome of the talks were constantly in doubt, and the three delegations had personalities that the others could not stand to be around. Even within the delegations there were stark differences of opinion, style, and personalities.
There have been a couple of events recently that have made me reflect on a concept that gets thrown around a lot: diversity. The benefits of creating diverse teams is well documented, yet we still struggle with an enduring distrust in the “other.” This made me wonder if diversity is a relatively new construct for humans. Since international travel is a relatively new concept, did our ancient ancestors only associate with people who were like them? Do we lack the muscle to embrace the other in a way where we can solve problems together like the leaders did at Camp David?
I find that coming to comfortable agreement even among people who share similar backgrounds can be challenging because everyone has a unique perspective. When we layer on history, personality, faith, etc, the odds of reaching agreement or collaborating on the most critical issues of our time get more and more challenging.
It has made me realize that the miracles I believe in are not acts of nature or coincidence, but those instances where diverse people can come together to solve problems. In my experience, diversity of thought and experience tend to make solutions better for all involved. Yet the pull of how we are different from one another can be stronger than the push of our commonalities.
I believe in diverse teams and I thoroughly enjoy living and working in diverse environments. The benefits of living in a diverse society, however, can only be reached if we listen intently to one another and turn off the filters of distrust.
What happened at Camp David was a miracle that produced incredible benefits to the Middle East and the world, ending wars and establishing peace. As leaders, we must help the world embrace diversity and candor to create more of these miracles that produce diverse and inclusive societies.
KEY TAKEAWAY: Diverse groups of people living and working together can produce tremendous benefits. Leaders should embrace diversity, while creating an environment where people from diverse backgrounds can explore their differences, while embracing similarities to create thriving organizations.