Fact of life: We are all different. We share a world with others who in many ways may be similar to us but we are all, ultimately, 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; for them life is an adventure full of surprises. “Vive la difference” is a mindset open to and appreciative of all that surrounds them.
For others, however, living with certain differences is not easy. For many reasons – status, upbringing, prejudice, entitlement – living in a world of “they” instead of “we,” or of “me, not them” leaves little room for anything but judgment, at best niggling tolerance and, at worst, hatred and fear.
It may help to consider one’s perspective, that is, how one sees diversity, whether from “outside-in” or from “inside-out.”
Seeing differences from outside-in creates judgments, labels and stereotypes that can work against getting to know and making room for any “other” who is “packaged” differently, be it culture, color, language or accent, clothing, neighborhood, religion. Getting past such differences on a one-to-one basis is preferable to categorizing and misjudging a class or group. Unfortunately, it is too easy to label and stereotype a class of different others, forgetting that no person is like any other person who may seem the same on the outside. Those who make these mistakes generally see diversity from outside-in.
Diversity experienced from inside-out, however, can provide a far more accurate – and rewarding – starting point. “Different” is not just about others; it also describes every self. Recognizing one’s own distinctiveness should help any individual to make room for and accept others’ as well.
“Know thyself.” The Delphic Oracle prescribes that 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 complexities – can teach not only tolerance but also acceptance – of self and especially and eventually 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 becomes a problem when one makes it so. For all of us it is an embossed 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.