D is for Diversity
“We are all different, which is great because we are all unique. Without diversity, life would be very boring.” Catherine Pulsifer
The world would be a very dull place if we were all the same. Yoko Ono once said “You change the world by being yourself.” but today, there is constant pressure, particularly via social media for conformity.
“The hardest challenge is to be yourself in a world where everyone is trying to make you be somebody else.” E.E. Cummings
Fostering cultural diversity is one of the top challenges that society is facing at the moment.
“Diversity may be the hardest thing for a society to live with and perhaps the most dangerous thing for a society to be without.” William Sloane Coffin Jr.
What is diversity?
“A lot of different flowers make a bouquet.” Islamic Proverb
Diversity comes from the mid-14c. word ‘diversite’, meaning ‘variety, diverseness’ from the Old French ‘diversete’ ‘difference, diversity, unique feature, oddness’ and from the Latin ‘diversitatem’(nominative diversitas) meaning ‘contrariety, contradiction, disagreement’, but also from the secondary sense, from ‘diversus’ meaning ‘turned different/various ways’
Diversity according to the Merriam Webster dictionary is ‘the condition of having or being composed of differing elements: variety; especially the inclusion of people of different races, cultures, etc’ or ‘being composed of differing elements or qualities’ e.g. diversity of opinion.
The concept of diversity means understanding that each individual is unique and recognizing that our unique individual differences play an essential role in a flourishing society. Diversity means more than just acknowledging and/or tolerating differences, rather it recognises that each of our individual differences share a purpose not only in our individual friendships but in society as a whole and it is proactive in encompassing acceptance and respect. Diversity requires us to learn how to relate to those qualities and conditions that are different from our own and outside our own particular groups to which we belong, yet are present in other individuals and groups.
Why is Diversity So Important?
“Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.” Stephen R. Covey
Diversity strengthens us. Jawaharlal Nehru uses the phrase 'unity in diversity' in his book 'Discovery of India'. He uses it to describe how despite the diverseness of India with its many languages, religions, castes, etc. there is a feeling of oneness among people.
“Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilization.” Mahatma Gandhi
This idea of unity in diversity can be applied to the true sense of diversity within our friendship groups, our wider communities or the world as a whole.
“Human communities depend upon a diversity of talent, not a singular conception of ability. And at the heart of the challenge is to reconstitute our sense of ability and intelligence.”
For me the importance of diversity is expressed simply by ‘upscaling’ the phrase ‘two heads are better than one’. Every single person in every group, community, culture etc sees the world in a different way. Each person has gained different types of knowledge through their life experiences, and has different perspectives and come to form different points of view.
If we only mix with people who are similar to us, be it from the same education level, work, church, backgrounds, social status etc then how are we to expand our outlook and have a growth mindset? In order for us to learn something new, or gain a deeper understanding of the world around us it is necessary to either intentionally do new things (and we will never have the time in our lifetime to do everything to learn everything) or actively seek to listen to others who have already gained that knowledge through their own different personal experiences.
We can all learn something by listening to people with different experiences, perspectives, and backgrounds than us and it is these new perspectives that help us gain different insights and become more creative in our own problem solving or in our own lives generally etc.
No two people are the same, so no two people have the same strengths and weaknesses. What one person lacks in skill, another may prove to be an expert at. By putting our skills together, so much more can be achieved for everyone.
“Diversity: the art of thinking independently together.” Malcolm Forbes
The Iroquois are indigenous North American Indians who lived in the valleys of the St. Lawrence and Susquehanna rivers and on the shores of lakes Erie, Ontario and Huron. Long before Europeans came to North America, the various tribes organized themselves and formed the Iroquois League or Confederacy. The goal was to promote peace among themselves. One of the cultural values of the Iroquois Confederacy is respect for diversity: When the five (later 6) nations came together, they all kept their own culture, language and territory.
“There are no experts in Iroquois culture.
When we come together we say
that we put our minds on the table.
That way, if you have knowledge that I can use
I can borrow it
And if I have knowledge that you can use,
you can borrow it.
We always have something to learn”
Jake Thomas (Cayuga Chief – d1998)
Diversity promotes personal growth and without diversity, creativity remains stagnant. By engaging with others, diversity gives us the opportunity to enhance our learning by experiencing life through the eyes of another and to step outside of our own personal bubble. Every new person we come into contact with, or every country we learn about or visit, can bring us different insights into the world and help us grow and develop as individuals if we learn to put aside our assumptions and take the time to engage, ask questions, listen and have a thirst for lifelong learning.
It is well documented, that when we have diverse relationships it brings us many benefits at a personal, social and communal level including a greater sense of well being, a sense of belonging, increased peer support, we develop more positive attitudes, and educationally we have improved learning outcomes and develop better academic skills
“We need to give each other the space to grow, to be ourselves, to exercise our diversity. We need to give each other space so that we may both give and receive such beautiful things as ideas, openness, dignity, joy, healing, and inclusion”. Max de Pree
Is there a downside to diversity?
“The diversity in the human family should be the cause of love and harmony, as it is in music where many different notes blend together in the making of a perfect chord.”
Although diversity makes a positive contribution to our lives, it can sometimes lead to a level of discomfort, based on fear of the unknown, because we are initially drawn to similarity and familiarity.
“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” Audre Lorde
“Embrace a diversity of ideas. Embrace the fact that you can disagree with people and not be disagreeable. Embrace the fact that you can find common ground - if you disagree on nine out of 10 things, but can find common ground on that 10th, maybe you can make progress. If you can find common ground, you can accomplish great things.” David Boies
Embracing diversity is a skill that can be learnt and which we can get better at over time and in so doing we can learn to build trust and intimacy through practice
“Diversity is not how we differ. Diversity is about embracing one another’s uniqueness.”
How can we increase our opportunities for diversity?
“The beauty and the challenge of friendship is its diversity.” Julie Beck
Diversity allows us to explore a wide array of storylines from a multitude of perspectives. We increase these opportunities for diversity through awareness, attention, understanding, motivation and action
Diversity requires awareness and conscious attention to think about the choices we make with regard to those we spend time with and then through understanding of the benefits of diverse relationships we are motivated to take action. There are often limits to our ability to make connections e.g. structural factors such as the school, job, clubs we attend etc but it is still possible to seek out and make new connections with effort and intention etc
Social media is a mixed bag in that it is a tool for connection because there are increased opportunities to talk to all sorts of people from all over the world but we should also be aware of social algorithms etc that are structured to facilitate echo chambers not encourage us to discover new people or things. Again we need to develop our own awareness not only of the social media contacts that we do have but also an awareness of the voices/new perspectives etc that are absent.
As we get older it is sometimes harder to naturally make new connections with others because we tend to be fixed in our ways and more rooted geographically. When we are younger, at university for example, there are more opportunities to make friends from a larger ‘mixing pot’ as diverse people come from outside local neighbourhoods. Although it might be easier for us just to stay at home by ourselves if we want to flourish, as we get older, we need to go out consciously to look for more opportunities to create new and diverse connections.
“We will all profit from a more diverse, inclusive society, understanding, accommodating, even celebrating our differences, while pulling together for the common good.”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Valuing diversity recognizes differences between people and acknowledges that these differences are a valued asset. When we actively seek to learn from and exchange with people from all walks of life and all types of backgrounds then the tools available to us (new perspectives, understanding) etc increase. By pooling our shared experiences we are not only in a stronger position to help ourselves but we are in a better position to help and support one another and build stronger communities and a better world.
“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” Martin Luther King, Jr
Finally, to summarise, a definition of diversity from Queensborough Community college
Diversity is a set of conscious practices that involve:
• Understanding and appreciating interdependence of humanity, cultures, and the natural environment.
• Practising mutual respect for qualities and experiences that are different from our own.
• Understanding that diversity includes not only ways of being but also ways of knowing;
• Recognizing that personal, cultural and institutionalized discrimination creates and sustains privileges for some while creating and sustaining disadvantages for others;
• Building alliances across differences so that we can work together to eradicate all forms of discrimination.