“Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilization.” – Mahatma Gandhi
When we think of the word diversity, we often connect it to race and gender. But I believe that this definition is too narrow because it doesn’t capture the numerous dimensions of diversity that exists in our variegated society. Diversity is not only about what background a person comes from but everything else that contributes to making them the unique individual that they are.
So let’s create a broader and all-encompassing definition of diversity by including a full range of differences (whether visible or invisible), such as gender, physical appearance, religious beliefs, age, sexual orientation, culture, political beliefs, socioeconomic background, profession, etc. These are the salient factors that influence a person’s experience of the world.
Diversity and inclusiveness are relatively new terms in our modern vernacular that originated as our societies evolved into melting pots over recent decades. Back in the day, we didn’t have that much variety because of the absence of modern transportation, which restricted travel and communication devices such as cell phones and computers, which limited interpersonal contact between regions.
If you rode a time machine that took you back to a major city such as New York in the 19th century, you’d notice that everyone around you pretty much looked the same, talked the same, and behaved in a similar manner. Visit New York today and it’s a completely different scenario. There’s now so much variation in the population that your senses could get overstimulated and find it challenging to keep up with things.
Today, it’s almost impossible for us to avoid interacting with others outside our native groups, especially if we live in urban communities. Unless you live in a remote location on the planet, you will encounter diversity in your workplace, the grocery stores, conferences, schools, colleges and entertainment venues. We’re also seeing more diversity being represented in businesses, politics and the media.
Every day, millions of people now travel or migrate from one part of the world to another in search for better opportunities and living conditions. Whether we like it or not, we have no choice but to embrace this social phenomenon and celebrate it as a citizen of the world. We stand to benefit a lot, both as individuals and as a global society, if learn to live and respect people who are different from us.
Sadly, we’ve been constantly reminded throughout history of segments of the population that resist this movement and who view others’ differences as threats. The most horrific times include the Nazi holocaust in the 1930s-1940s, the Civil War in the US, the apartheid movement in South Africa, and even the recent tragedies that were fuelled by terrorism or anti-immigrant sentiments in the Western world.
Too many people have been ostracized, killed and denied their rights because of the fear, greed and hatred of other groups that considered themselves to be more superior in one way or another. Wars, genocides and other atrocities were committed because of a lack of trust and understanding, and an unwillingness to have conversations that bridge differences and that lead to peaceful negotiations.
I believe that the recent world events that have taken place serve as reminders that this intolerance of diversity still exists within the fabric of our worldwide consciousness and it’s being brought to the surface for us to witness and heal. If we don’t take action to nip these radical and ignorant ideas in the bud, we will suffer long-term consequences due to the lack of cohesion and unity amongst our people.
The old and outdated paradigms that support homogenous and hierarchical systems, held by those who have little understanding of the importance of diversity, need to be eradicated. What’s important to understand is that anyone who can’t get along with those who are different from them suffers from an acute fear of a loss of control. Most people, however, are comfortable with those who are similar to them.
According to Newcomb’s theory of social attraction, we instinctively feel safer with those who share similar attributes such as values, race, attitudes, beliefs and views. Experiments by Harry C. Triandis show that different cultural groups are slightly uncomfortable to talk to other people who don’t share the same beliefs as they do because they’re afraid of being judged and misunderstood.
Even though we are naturally prone to gravitate towards those who are like us, we should take certain measures to overcome this tendency, especially if we grew up in a setting that did not represent or support inclusiveness. Take a step back and examine the presence of diversity in your current life circumstances. Do you see it in your neighborhood? Workplace? Friend circle? Community?
If you’re not meeting a variety of people in your life, there’s so much you can do to add diversity into your daily mix and show your support. If you’re an owner or a manager, you can start hiring people from different backgrounds. If you’re a mother, you can allow your kids to mingle with kids from other neighborhoods and races. If you’re in school or college, join globally-oriented organizations and groups.
As a collective measure, we can create more inclusive societies by educating adults and the youth through awareness programs and campaigns that stress on the importance of diversity. You can contribute by setting an example, but before you do that, you need to be fully convinced of the importance of being part of this movement and build a mindset that honors the differences in others.
Here are five main reasons why it’s important for us to have a diverse and inclusive society:
- We learn different perspectives: When you speak with people from different backgrounds, you’ll get a broad range of perspectives on the common struggles, priorities and experiences that you share. When you view life through the lens of another individual, you add another layer of understanding that enriches your worldview. Sometimes, speaking to someone new can give you breakthroughs or even change your opinion about certain issues. When you have conversations with a variety of people, you’ll grow to appreciate other points of view and get a deeper understanding of what motivates others.
- We minimize discrimination and become more accepting: As you gain more intimate insights into the lives and challenges that other people face, you open the doorway for kindness and understanding. After all, discrimination is a result of ignorance, and by engaging in meaningful conversations with those who are different from us, we reduce the chances of encountering misunderstandings. Through our contact and exposure to new people, we’ll see that we have more in common with them than we thought and if there are any differences; our increasing familiarity with those differences will minimize the misconceptions and prejudices that cause discrimination. When we seek to understand and not judge, we can experience genuine feelings of compassion and empathy for our fellow humans.
- Productivity and efficiency increases: Workplace diversity is the credo of many progressive companies today because they recognize the benefits of it. A corporation that values diversity and inclusiveness recognizes that people with different skills, backgrounds, experiences and attitudes can bring fresh ideas, interpretations and approaches to the table. Organizations can harness the idea generation models within a diverse workforce by drawing upon the wide range of views and experiences to tailor their services and offerings to meet the unique needs of a more complex customer base.
- We unite our efforts to improve the world: When we get over the misunderstandings and the division caused by a lack of communication between different groups of people, we save lots of energy and time. We create space for beneficial alliances and mutual co-operation to take place. We can unite together to work on the common challenges that we face as members of the planet, such as controlling climate change, eradicating world hunger, and promoting world peace. We can come together to create policies that propagate the advancement of science, such as funding space exploration missions, finding cures for deadly diseases, and regulating food and agricultural practices. These contemporary problems that we face today require input from various nationalities and backgrounds if we’re to find lasting solutions. The complexity of these issues engenders the creative brainstorming and expertise from a wide array of individuals who can pool in their strengths, experiences, technologies and skill sets.
- We become more enriched and worldly: The best thing about being part of a diverse society is that it makes life so much more interesting! Imagine going to an event and meeting someone from a country that you’ve always dreamed of visiting and hearing his or her stories about what life is like there. When we befriend someone who is different from us, we gain instant access to another world with its own set of fascinating stories, histories, practices, challenges, beliefs, behaviors and mannerisms. Whether we delve into it through our conversations or direct participation, our lives become instantly enriched and it reminds us of our identity as a world citizen and our evergreen connection to the global consciousness.
Witnessing the diversity of the people on the planet is like peeking into a moving kaleidoscope filled with intricate shapes, textures and colors. If we’re willing to dive into this omnipresent beauty that laces our Earthly neighborhoods, we’ll open the doorway for more tolerance, love and respect, while also diminishing the presence of hate, intolerance and discrimination.
All my best on your journey,
Question for you: Why do you think it’s important to have a diverse and inclusive society? How would you like to contribute to this movement?