Our society is right to value diversity.  Diversity is powerful.  Diversity can and should have good effects on both individuals and society (though only a willfully blind individual could fail to see that harmful responses to diversity are very possible as well).

So, how is it that diversity can be most beneficial?  More specifically, is the mere fact that our society is diverse sufficient for our society to also be better?  Is the mere fact that there is diversity along with my choice to intellectually value diversity sufficient to apply the benefits of diversity to me as an individual?

I am becoming more convinced that diversity must be rightly exercised in order to have its intended benefit, and when it is rightly exercised it truly does have tremendous benefits.  So, what does diversity ‘rightly exercised’ look like?  I think there is a continuum here:

  1. I hate everyone who isn’t like me
  2. I am convinced of the superiority of people who are are like me
  3. Diversity is just a fact and whether i like it or not is irrelevant – it is.  It’s enough that ‘they’ leave ‘us’ alone and ‘we’ leave ‘them’ alone.  Tolerance is important.
  4. Diversity is good, everyone has value, and it’s good that everyone has a place they belong.  But i am more comfortable (and i’m pretty sure they are too) when we all spend most of our time with the people we are most like.  Diversity works best when we all have a place and we all are tolerant and we all respect each other, but there’s no real need for anyone to stretch themselves to really LIVE with diversity.  We all should be able to be comfortable with who we are.  As long as we all get along with and respect each other that’s good.
  5. Diversity is a powerful tool to break down preconceived ideas, fears, suspicion, arrogance, racism, nationalism, parochialism, and a variety of other ‘isms’, but to have this effect it t must be practiced.  Exercised diversity and the benefits it brings are valuable enough to risk being uncomfortable and threatened and make intentional choices to share time and parts of my life with people who aren’t like me.  People who aren’t from my country, my social background, my ethnicity, my gender, my political party, my religion, my whatever!  I come to understand things better and truly become a better person by choosing to exercise diversity rather than just acknowledging its value intellectually.

I really do believe what is in #5 above, and i think a lot of folks in our society do to.  Unfortunately, what I observe in our society is that most people who value diversity are actually stuck in #4.  Stuck with an intellectual assent to the value of diversity and even a pride that our society is diverse, but without any serious effort to live in and benefit from this diversity themselves.  There are also, of course, people still at levels 1 – 3 in this continuum.  But my challenge is really for myself and those of us who are tempted to be satisfied with pride in diversity as a fact and tolerance of others without choosing the discomfort of regularly spending time with people ‘not like me’.

I am convinced that we really are better off as a diverse society, and that diversity rightly practiced is highly effective at helping us mature as individuals and as a society.  But only if it is rightly practiced.  It must become more than a philosophy, more than a societal value.  It really needs to be a value we LIVE OUT through choices of who we choose to invest our time in and who we seek to invest time in us.

And if this seems a little ‘liberal’ for an orthodox Christian, just wait until i get into what God thinks about a diverse society!   (Part 2 to come)