Fact of life: We are all different. We share a world with others who in many ways may be similar to us, but ultimately we are all different. Race, gender, nationalities, politics, religion, education, personalities, tastes, biases – the list goes on. For many, such differences present few – if any – problems. The world and its people comprise a fluid mosaic of colors, shapes and sizes, and life is an adventure full of surprises. Vive la difference is a mindset that renders many open to all that surrounds them.
For others, however, living with certain differences is not easy, for many reasons: status, upbringing, prejudice, entitlement, etc. Living in a world of “we” and “they” leaves little room for anything but judgment and at best reluctant tolerance, the latter being an attitude of “putting up with,” “reluctantly making room for” or simply ignoring as much as one can.
It may help to consider one’s perspective, that is, diversity from “outside in” versus “inside out.”
Dealing with differences from outside in can challenge anyone to get to know and make room for any different “other” beyond the stereotypes that come with their “packaging,” be it culture, color, language or accent, clothing, neighborhood or country of origin. Getting past such differences on a one-to-one basis should be far more workable than dealing with a class or group. Unfortunately, it is easier, if not more convenient, to label and stereotype a class of different others, forgetting that no one person is everyone else of their kind. Those who make that mistake generally see diversity from outside in.
Diversity experienced from inside out, however, can provide a far more workable – and rewarding – starting point. “Different” is not just about others; “different” also describes every self. Whether in a family or on a neighborhood or global scale, recognizing one’s own diversity can help any individual to accept themselves and, hopefully, others as well.
“Know thyself,” the Delphic Oracle prescribed in ancient stone, as if saying there is no better way to know others or to live a life. Every self can be a textbook on humanity. Naming and embracing the truth of self – with all of its varieties and complexities – can teach not only tolerance but also acceptance of others. Truth is: Every self is both gifted and flawed; every self has the responsibility to accept the challenges of life and make the most of their gifts, grow through their flaws and encourage others, if only by example, to do the same.
Diversity was never meant to be a problem. When it is, one makes it so. Diversity is an invitation to learn how to accept the differences that make and keep life interesting. All that is required is a belief in the gift of life, an honest sense of truth and an open mind.