10/13/2008 11:52 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Of All Nations, Why Should We Fear "Different"?

I've been trying to listen to my doctor and spend less time on my computer to help alleviate my carpal tunnel, but when I heard on NPR this morning that early voting has started and that some folks are trying to scare Americans into voting against Barack Obama because he is "different," I just had to speak up.

First, let me state clearly that this is not a blog about either candidate. It's a blog about a country I love... America.

Since our founding, one of our greatest assets has been our diversity. We are one of very few truly diverse nations. We've been a blend of races and nationalities from the beginning. And, while our history shows we too have not always been fair or equitable, whether to women or African Americans for example, I do feel we have done better than most nations. And, all our citizens, our businesses and arguably the world have benefited from that. Not to get all sappy, but while in DC last week I was struck... again... by the words of our founding fathers and greatest leaders. For those who haven't read the Declaration of Independence or the Gettysburg Address recently, I strongly encourage it. They are so powerful... so insightful... and they are one of the reasons I was so disturbed by what I heard on the radio this morning... Have we learned nothing? Have we not grown during these last hundred years?

I have been speaking across the country and around the world during the past year about how working abroad can catapult your career. Two weeks ago, I was speaking at the Harvard Women in Business conference in Boston. When the students there asked me what were some of the most important lessons you could learn overseas that would help you succeed, I said living and working abroad would help you truly understand that "different" does not automatically equal "bad." And when asked why that would be important, I pointed to trends like globalization or even the changing demographics in the USA. To me, the writing is on the wall and undeniable. In the future, those companies and countries that can bring together the best -- from everywhere and everyone -- will clearly have an edge over those who remain closed within their narrow sphere.

"Tolerance" is simply not enough. We must all learn to embrace differences. And, as someone married to a foreigner, I can tell you it isn't always easy. But, there is no other way forward. If we want our children and grand children to live in a great nation -- a nation that still commands the respect and attention of the world -- we'd better all start now getting a lot more comfortable with the idea that different can indeed be great. It can make us better, stronger, more adaptable, more resilient. And therefore, it is not to be feared. It is to be explored... considered... evaluated on the merits.

So when you go to vote in the coming weeks -- and I do truly hope you will vote -- please make your selection not out of fear of what's different. Make your selection -- for you and for all of us -- based on what you truly think is best, for all of us.

Perry Yeatman is an SVP at Kraft Foods and co-author of the award-winning book, Get Ahead by Going Abroad.