By Carmen F. Aguinaco
When a young child moved from Europe to Singapore he was surprised to see that everyone living around him was Asian. What was different for him was not their Asian features, but that they were the majority. Perhaps he was accustomed to seeing people from diverse backgrounds and races and was amazed by the homogeneity. But what amazes the majority of people today is the diversity. The reality is that we cannot escape it, because it has to do not only with different faces and races, but also with ages, cultures, mindsets, and ways of behaving and expressing ourselves.
How do you react when you first encounter diversity around you? Here are a few of the most common reactions:
The fear of being unable to communicate with another; not having things in common that we can discuss. This happens not only with people of different races and nationalities, but also within our own families, such as when young people have difficulty speaking with adults in the family or adults don’t understand them because they are different. Fear is a natural and instinctive reaction that requires thinking about our own positions and attitudes and in some way requires us to open up to what is less familiar and less comfortable.
Another reaction could be the negative opinion of cultures or their ways of doing things that seem strange to you. Since they are not my ways I look down on them. “Why can’t people be like us?” Deep down that feeling is very real. A secret conviction exists that my way is better. It could also be that what is different inspires within us a great fascination and the desire to learn the traditions and customs of others because they seem more refined or profound. This is the case, for example, of the fascination of many Westerners with Asian cultures.
Diversity forces us in some way to define and discover ourselves. By connecting with what is not “like us”, we affirm our own cultural identity, age, or way of thinking. In reality, diversity is a great discovery!
How can we be diverse? Or how is diversity manifested?
There are aspects of diversity that might seem superficial and easy to detect such as language, food, music, and art. In reality, these are expressions of an entire history, economy, and peoples’ beliefs. Culture is, so to speak, the collective identity of a people. Behavior, expressions of folklore, and language are part of an identity that comes from history, and reflects such history or society.
When we move to a deeper level, we see that these ways involve a way of thinking, which is then translated into communication and behavior. Not all human beings think in the same manner: There are people who need a time line or logic to develop their arguments. For others, the thought process can be more circular or cyclical and is elaborated in small fragments that find unity in a common topic or image. Some have auditory intelligence, in other words, they learn through sounds, songs, listening to words, and repetition. Others learn by seeing; some need abstract concepts, while some learn and communicate through symbols.
Although there are cultures in which one style predominates over another, there is also the individual diversity made up of personalities. Which type are you? Timid or outgoing; introvert or extrovert; leader or follower; intuitive or judgmental; a thinker or sensitive… This too is also an inevitable part of diversity.
Wouldn’t it be easier if we were all the same? But we would lose all the richness of so much color and expression. On the other hand, diversity is a personal enrichment for all because it requires us to be open to other worlds, which brings us to a deeper understanding of things. To open up to diversity makes us capable of living in various situations without suffering excessively from the changes, which are always somewhat costly, but less so as we become more adaptable. To be open to diversity requires us to go within ourselves and discover the great qualities and talents we possess.
Opening up to diversity makes us more compassionate. We understand that not everyone thinks or acts the same, and by becoming more accepting of differences, we become more compassionate with ourselves. We understand better when we are not being understood due to our differences, and we come to recognize that perhaps the other person with their diverse experience, culture, and roots may have great things to offer if we are open to them.
In reality (and this is topic for another article) we have a great role model in Jesus, who accepted taking an enormous leap from divinity to humanity by becoming incarnate and one of us, in a specific culture, but for all times and cultures.
What things from different cultures, ages, or beliefs do you see around you that feel uncomfortable? How do you try to over come it? Does it challenge you to go beyond your own limits?