The Fedex woman stopped by my office on Friday. She wanted to know if we were going to be open on Monday.
I explained that our hours really never make sense, but that my team and I would be thinking of Dr. King and his work all day, regardless of what we were doing.
She sighed deeply and said, "Every year, we're supposed to ask if offices are going to be open, and last year it made me so sad, I had to stop asking. I even got written up for not doing it." It turns out that most people either said, "what holiday?" or "oh, we don't celebrate that..."
I've written a lot about worldview, about the instincts and biases and outlooks that shape our lives. It's very difficult to change a worldview as a marketer... but one thing that changes a worldview, not just forever but often for generations, is a truly horrific event.
Why is it so easy and fun for a politician to make fun of French people (the French are arrogant and don't bathe was the joke on the radio on Saturday), but a non-starter to take on rape victims? There are no skits on Saturday Night Live about Darfur. Why does it make us squirm when someone misuses the idea of a lynching for their own selfish motives? If you've been misjudged and mistreated your entire life, of course it has an effect on the way you see the world.
Slavery was the greatest crime of the millenium. Why does it surprise marketers (politicians and otherwise) when so many people have a worldview that has been permanently altered by the legacy of abuse? It's a worldview that doesn't ask for charity for the individual, but one that demands respect.
The lesson of diversity is a simple one, a compelling one, one that's been demonstrated over and over again. Diverse populations solve problems better and faster than homogenous ones. But the selfish value of treating people of all backgrounds in the same way is just part of the Reverend's message. The other part, the part that's easy to forget, is that when confronted with enormity, worldviews change. And if you want to engage with someone, you have no choice but to understand that. You don't have to experience the emotion in order to be able to respect someone who has.