23 November 2016


We all have been given an amazing gift on this planet, and that gift lies in the differences between us.  The perspectives that each person has are completely unique to each individual--even though we often decide to share certain things with others with whom we live--and if we truly respect those differences and try to learn what they are, they can teach us new and exciting ways of seeing our world.  When we decide that someone else is simply "wrong" because they don't see the world as we see it, then we close off any chances that we have to learn from them, instead becoming victims of our own ignorance and judgment.

We have many, many lessons in nature and art that show us quite clearly that diversity is much more to be desired than conformity.  What would a painting look like if every color were the same, if it weren't given the opportunity to work with the other colors to stand out next to this one, to complement this other one, to create its own message?  One of the reasons that flowers are so beautiful is because they have subtle differences that distinguish them from each other, even when they look similar at first glance--and they always have the green of their leaves and stalks to complement the colors and shapes that they show the world.  And what if all our foods tasted the same?  We accept fully the fact that our foods should taste different, but somehow we find it disturbing or uncomfortable that other human beings should see the world differently from us.

Just as many threads work together to form a beautiful tapestry or the many blocks make up a quilt, it takes many individuals to make up a community.  We've come to believe somehow that the fewer differences in opinion or perspective we have among members of communities, the fewer problems we'll have in those communities.  Because of this mistaken belief, we've striven to keep our communities stable by keeping out people who might be "different" from us.  We've even created myths or rumors to share with others so that the others also will believe that it would be bad to let these people into our communities.
If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values,
we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and
so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each
diverse human gift will find a fitting place.

Margaret Mead
And just what do we lose when we keep people out of our lives because of their skin color, religious beliefs, or ethnic heritage?  Mostly, we lose the opportunity to learn from someone else who sees the world in different ways.  We lose the chance to learn from rich cultural heritages that these people have spent their lives learning from, and that they can now pass on to us.

Think about it this way:  If four people from completely different backgrounds were to get together for the very first time and have only twelve hours to spend together, what would be the best way for them to spend their time?

Should they spend those twelve hours discussing life and lessons that they have learned about it, learning from each other as they do so?

Or should they spend those twelve hours telling why what they think is right, and arguing that what the other three think is wrong?

When we're faced with diversity in thought and perspective, we often spend so much of our time trying to prove that our perspective is the "right" one that we don't take the chance to learn about other perspectives, and perhaps even modifying our own perspectives a bit based on what we learn.

One small example in my life was that as I grew up in America, I learned that it's perfectly fine to use the insult as humor, trying to make other people laugh by insulting someone.  Five years in Europe, though, taught me that this kind of humor is really mean, not funny--and the laughter that comes from it is based more on fear and feelings of superiority than it is on humor.  Because of what I learned by living in other cultures, I've been able to make important decisions about how I relate to other people, and that has made a huge difference in my life.
When you're finally up on the moon, looking back at the earth, all these
differences and nationalistic traits are pretty well going to blend and you're
going to get a concept that maybe this is really one world and why the
hell can't we learn to live together like decent people?

Frank Borman
To me, diversity is not about race or ethnic origin--I believe that these are artificial distinctions that we make between human beings in order to differentiate ourselves from others based on the most superficial of criteria.  Where humanity is concerned, skin color means nothing; country of origin means nothing, even gender means nothing.  Yes, there are certain traits that we develop as Russians or Algerians or Australians, or as men or women, but the truth is that in each body of each human a heart is beating, lungs are functioning, and a brain is calculating and considering and dreaming.

Diversity, rather, is a question of the ways that we see and share the world, the ways that we react to stimuli and create the lives that we're living.  Much of the way that we see the world has to do with traits that we've adopted from those people who live around us, and therein lies what we see as "cultural" differences.  But those differences are not inborn in us--rather, they are adopted by us as we grow.  They can be extremely valuable and helpful in understanding other people, but they truly don't define us as human beings.  We tend to use them as our measure of diversity, though, because they're easy to see and to quantify and to understand.

True diversity lies in our uniqueness, the aspects of ourselves that are truly ours alone, the ways that we understand life and living and our relationships with other human beings.  We see this true diversity not by looking at the skin, but by looking in the eyes and realizing that those eyes are the windows to a soul, an amazing being who is different than us, and who can teach us a great deal if we only take the chance to listen.
Some people do things completely differently from the way you would
do them.  It does not mean that they are right or that you are wrong.
It means that people are different.  There are things that people say
which you would probably say in a different way, at a different time.
It does not mean that people are wrong to speak up, to speak out, or
to speak their minds.  Nor does it mean that you are wrong for choosing
not to do so.  It means that people are different.  Different is not right
or wrong.  It is a reality.  Differences become problems only when we
choose to measure ourselves by our difference in an effort
to determine who is right and who is wrong.

Iyanla Vanzant
Our cultures and societies are richer and stronger for diversity, not weakened by it.  We will truly benefit from that diversity, though, only when we completely accept the fact that other human beings see life in ways that are different from our ways.  We aren't on this planet to make other people think and feel and act just like we do--we're here to work with others to help to make this world a more positive and more loving place.

We now spend a huge amount of time trying to convince others that our ways of seeing the world are right, and theirs are wrong.  Think about how much we could get done together if we were to stop spending time this way, and instead spend time working together constructively to actually accomplish things that help other people to live their lives in more positive ways.  The shame of not accepting others for who they are and what they believe is that we limit our own potential concerning what we can accomplish in the short time that we're here on this planet.

No comments:

Post a Comment