When it Comes to Diversity at Events, ‘Tolerance is Not Enough’

Author: Sherrif Karamat       

Sherrif Karamat

Sherrif Karamat, CAE

There were 105 mass shootings in the first four months of this year in the U.S. At the time of this writing, in mid-May, there had been 10 additional mass shootings added to that total. There are a number of definitions of a mass shooting, but most agree with this metric: four-plus people shot in one incident. Some media outlets, like The Washington Post, say that at least one person needs to be killed in order to fall into the category of a mass shooting.

There may be some difference of opinion when it comes to what defines a mass shooting, but I think we can all agree that our gun violence statistics are just simply unacceptable. Most egregious of all are the mass shootings that have taken place around the world at schools and at places of worship. There have been two in the U.S. in the past month alone: STEM School Highlands Ranch in Colorado, where one student was killed and eight others injured, and at the Chabad of Poway synagogue in California, where a shooter killed one person and wounded three.

When innocent people were gunned down this past March at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch, I, and the rest of the world, felt numb. In shock.

What does this have to do with the business events industry? You can draw a number of parallels between the act of bringing people together to worship and bringing people together for events. I mean no disrespect to religion, but at the most elemental level, both serve the purpose of gathering people together under one roof to learn, share, and celebrate as a community.

By tying the two kinds of gatherings together, I don’t mean to suggest that we’re the next target of a crazed gunman and thereby incite paranoia. Instead, as is the overarching goal of our industry, I hope that we can have civil discourse on the root causes of what ails our society so that we can address them properly instead of just treating the symptoms.

As much as we value the freedom of speech, we can’t continue to let people drive a wedge between others by spreading hatred about particular groups, because of their religious beliefs, or otherwise. I believe that people who preach hate need to be treated as criminals.

And we’ve got to do better than to aim for “tolerance” of those with views that differ from ours. Tolerance to me is another way of saying that while I might allow you to be here, you’re not truly welcome.

We bring diverse people together in the events industry for a higher aim: to understand one another. To respect our differences. To care for our fellow human beings. Regardless of the profession or industry we cover, that’s the business we should all see ourselves as being in — and our efforts will continue to have a positive ripple effect on the rest of society.

Everyone at the Table

  • Last month, the James Beard Foundation named Philadelphia’s Zahav — which “encourages guests to sample the large variety of cultural influences on the cuisine of Israel” — the top restaurant in the U.S. The foundation’s selection underscores how food can serve to help us learn about other cultures, and how a meal eaten together — especially with shared plates — can foster connections.
  • F&B at events is one way we take care of our attendees’ needs. And catering to their special religious dietary requirements is an important part of making people who keep kosher or halal feel welcome. Our June F&B column shares how to meet those needs in the spirit of gracious hospitality.

Sherrif Karamat, CAE, is President & CEO of PCMA.