Diversity

“Diversity is our strength!”

That’s a thing people like to say.

Usually those people are young, US American liberals who enjoy interacting with people from different cultures.

And I get it. I fit that description, too. In fact, I love diversity.

I am always traveling, and I have a lot of friends from different cultures all over the world. I really enjoy interacting with these cultures and these different perspectives. I think diversity can be quite enlightening, and it’s masterfully effective at opening up one’s mind to the myriad of experiences that exist in the world.

BUUUUUT….

It’s only enlightening within the context of what’s common. In order to bridge the rampant epidemic of division and hatred that fills every single conflict about everything, we need to focus our efforts on finding similarities, not on highlighting difference.

We first must identify that which is similar. Then, and only then, can we look to diversity to move us forward. Many people forget this important first step.

And if you are someone who forgets to do that super important thing first, you are not looking to find strength in diversity, you are looking for a fight.

Settling on What We Want

I want to make this clear:

  • Diversity can be strengthening.

It can be. It has the power to be. But even with all the strengthening potential it has, it’s not the most essential ingredient when talking about what makes us strong.

Tagging onto that, it’s not “the” strength, like the “diversity is our strength” mantra would have you believe. It’s “a” strength, sure, but again, it’s only a strength once we’re already strong.

It’s like if you want to live in a house with a rooftop pool but all you focus on is the pool. It’s fine if you want a rooftop pool in your house. I mean, once that house is built, the rooftop pool will definitely be a major selling point – i.e. a strength. But you need to make sure that that house is built on a strong foundation before you can build a pool on the roof. You can’t just go straight for the goods; you have to do a lot of preparatory work first.

Here’s an example:

I’m deciding what to do with someone. I want to make food, but this other person wants to go to a movie. We can’t decide on what to do, and we end up having a conversation like this:

Me: Let’s make food.

Movie Person: No. Let’s go to a movie.

Me: I don’t want to go to a movie. I want to eat.

Movie Person: Well I don’t want to eat. I want to go to a movie.

Me: Well I don’t really care what you want because I’m hungry.

Movie Person: Yeah but if you eat now, we’re going to be late for this movie, so your selfish actions are having on impact on me.

Me: My selfish actions? My body is telling me to eat, bro. It’s uncomfortable. Why can’t you have some empathy and understand how I feel?

Movie Person: Why can’t you have some empathy for me and understand that I have been wanting to go to a movie for two weeks and now is the only time to go and you’re going to make us late!

There is clearly a diversity of opinion, a diversity of experience, and a diversity of needs in this example. So where’s the strength? Not only is there no strength, there’s a whole bunch of weakness that will ultimately lead to both people not getting the things they want.

First, we have to decide on a common purpose. If we don’t have that, diversity is most certainly not a strength.

“We need to be pooping on sidewalks, not eating french fries off the street! Damnit, Fred, you’re making all sparrows look like assholes…”

Next, even if we decide on a common purpose, we need similar enough ideas to come to a consensus about how we’re going to achieve that common purpose to meet the needs of both parties.

This is one thing I see all the time. Most of the “diversity is our strength” people are politically left-leaning. That means they have a common purpose and a shared set of (politically left-wing) values. Without those shared values, none of these people would get very far with diversity alone.

Here’s an example:

Now that I’ve found my community of food eaters, I and another person are deciding on what food to make.

I want to make a vegan tempeh stir fry and the other person wants to make a steak. Here’s that conversation…

Me: I want to make a vegan tempeh stir fry.

Steak Person: That’s so stupid. Let’s make steak.

Me: I don’t eat steak, I’m vegan.

Steak Person: I don’t care. I’m not eating some lame vegan shit.

Me: Lame? What makes you think it’ll be lame? It’s going to be delicious.

Steak Person: It’s vegan. That’s how I know it’s going to be lame. Everything vegan sucks.

Me: That’s not true. I make great vegan food. And no animals have to die for us to eat.

Steak Person: OH! THERE IT IS! LOOK AT THE PREACHY VEGAN OVER HERE!

Me: I’m not preaching. That’s just a fact. No animals had to die. You want me to preach? I can… But I won’t. But I can…

Steak Person: Dude I’m not eating this rabbit food shit.

Me: Well I’m not eating a steak.

Steak Person: You’re such a wuss. There are animals here for us to eat!

Me: Oh, look who’s preaching now…

Steak Person: Not preaching, just facts.

Me: That’s not a fact! That’s an opinion! AAAHHH!

Aside from a common purpose, we also need shared values.

Without shared values, diversity is most certainly not a strength.

Political Diversity Usually Leads to Fighting

The obvious metaphor here is political diversity – conservatives and liberals, right-wing and left-wing, etc. We don’t usually regard those with opposing political views – those with whom we vehemently disagree about core political beliefs – as integral to “our strength”. Instead, we seek to eradicate them and their beliefs from our discourse… or rather, DESTROY them with FACTS and LOGIC.

I was talking to a friend the other day, and I was telling him that through my many years of wandering the earth, taking in diverse cultures and even more diverse viewpoints, I am consistently blown away by how remarkably similar we all are.

He, a white, 18-year old left-wing college freshman with a self-professed litany of “ethnically diverse” friends, quickly told me I was wrong. Not only wrong, but like… really wrong. I was wrong, to him, because humans are not similar. There is nothing similar about the experiences that people, in particular, minority cultures, face. We are all different, and it’s important to highlight those differences because… “diversity is our strength”. When we come together and engage with that diversity, we build a future that is “stronger” than any one type of experience could build on its own.

I rebutted.

“Of course it’s important to recognize difference, but if all we see is difference, all we’ll ever see is something we can’t possibly relate to. If we don’t recognize diversity from a place of similarity, we’ll never come to see the strengths associated with it. We need to come together first and rally around our shared sense of commonalities. And we aren’t doing that now. Instead, we just shame others that think differently than we do, and we expect our community of like-minded individuals to back us up, heightening our feelings of righteousness. We can’t just go around being different and expect all of us to find strength in that because difference built without the foundation of similarity will only ever result in judgment, power struggles, and unresolved resentment.”

I asked him if he and his “diverse” friends all liked each other. He said they did. I asked him if they all worked toward a common purpose. He said they did. I asked him if they all had a shared set of values. He said they did.

I then asked him if he, with a similar frequency, had a “diverse” array of conservative friends. He said he did not.

I asked why, and he said “because I don’t like those kind of people”. When I asked why, he said he didn’t like them because they held very different views than him on many core values. I said, “I thought diversity was a strength. Why is diversity not a strength with the people you disagree with?”

He had no answer for several moments, and then said, laughingly, recognizing how absurd he was going to sound, “because they’re wrong and I’m right”.

Diversity Disagreement

We are strong because of our diversity (unless you don’t have the right opinion, then you’re clearly a weakness)!

Opposition Has Potential for Growth, But the Growth is On You

It’s not just political.

It could really be anything with two opposing viewpoints. We don’t typically like people with whom we disagree about our fundamental core beliefs. Likewise, we don’t usually associate with people whom we deem to be “different” than us.

That’s just human nature. I don’t like clothes shopping, so I don’t usually associate with the people whose lives revolve around clothes shopping.

Diversity is like a spice. It’s meant to add flavor to the conversation so that we can move together and impart our shared values on our common purpose. But you can’t eat an entire meal of spices. You still have to make the food for those spices to be put on.

And there’s still something missing. Maybe you can find it with this handy example:

Two people are making potatoes. They’ve come to a common purpose of making food and they’ve identified their shared values of potatoes. Now they’re bringing in the diversity of their personal experiences. Let’s watch…

Paprika Person: Let’s throw a little paprika on these potatoes. That’s what my grandmother used to do and it really tastes great.

Cumin Person: Paprika? That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. My grandmother used to put cumin on them. I think we should do that.

Paprika Person: What? No. That sounds awful. Paprika is the way to go.

Cumin Person: Dude I’m not putting paprika on these. Either put cumin on them, or I’m not helping anymore.

Paprika Person: Firstly, it’s pronounced “koo min”. What are you gonna cum in the potatoes?

Cumin Person: If I did cum in the potatoes, they’d probably taste better than if you put paprika in them.

Paprika Person: BTFO bro, paprika is awesome. Cumin on potatoes is gonna ruin them.

Cumin Person: Cumin is awesome. So much better than paprika. I can’t even think of a worse idea than paprika on potatoes.

Paprika Person: I can. Cumin. The answer is no. No cumin is touching these potatoes.

Cumin Person: *throws down apron* That’s it, I’m out.

The missing ingredient in all of this is trust. Trust brings the whole thing together.

Trust is what gets one person to understand that another person’s lived experience may have value to the situation at hand.

And it’s important to remember that trust goes both ways. Many times we’re so stubborn in thinking that we’re right and that the only right way of thinking is our way that we fail to see someone else might actually have something valuable to bring to the table.

The equation is this:

  • Common Purpose + Shared Values + Trust = Strength in Diversity

So the way we reconcile these differences, and hence find the strength in them, is by recognize the similarities BEFORE we recognize the differences. There is indeed strength in diversity, but only after we’ve highlighted all of the requisite similarities needed for us to advance together and trusted that the existing differences can help us both achieve our shared goals.

Now, not only do we have a common purpose and shared values, we are willing to trust that another’s experience potentially holds value to our own lives. We’re willing to share in each other’s happiness, and we want to see both sets of experiences blossom into something greater than could have been achieved individually.

Let’s check back in with Eric and Steak Person…

Me: Hey, you can cook steak, and I can cook my vegan stir fry. We can both still eat, but we’ll just be eating different things.

Steak Person: Yeah, that sounds good. I’ll be sure to use a different pan so you don’t get any steak juices on your vegan stuff.

Me: Thanks! And if you’d like to have some of this stir fry to complement your steak, I’d be happy to share.

Steak Person: Oh wow cool! Yeah I’d love some. Is that tempeh? I love tempeh!

Me: Yeah, it is! And I love tempeh, too! Hey look at that, we have something in common!

Steak Person: Haha, yeah! Oh hey, I have some extra potatoes that I made earlier. They have cumin and paprika on them. I’d never put cumin on potatoes before but it really does add a lot of awesome flavor.

Me: Oh wow! So cool! I had no idea!

Steak Person: Yeah, me neither! I guess you can learn a lot when you step outside of your own little bubble and recognize that while diversity is not inherently a strength, it can become a strength if you’re open to taking in new and potentially conflicting ideas.

Me: Yeah! That’s so true, fictitious person I’ve created to prove my point.

Strength Food Diversity

“You know, not fighting about our differences definitely makes flirting easier… (winky face).”

Simply saying “diversity is a strength” doesn’t actually give power to the strength that can be found in diversity. We need a seriously healthy dose of self-awareness to recognize whether we’re actually giving space to a diverse array of ideas, experiences, and personally felt truths or whether we’re quashing dissent with one-liner platitudes.

We first need to be on the same page before we can start talking about nuance.

Just to really drive this point home, let’s literally talk about being on the same page…

My friend and I both pick up a copy of Huckleberry Finn, but one is in English because I speak English and the other is in Chinese because my friend speaks Chinese. Wow! That’s some serious diversity!

*I flip to a random page: Tom says to Huck, “Hey Huck, let’s paint this fence.”

*My friend flips to a random page: Tom says to Huck, “Hey Huck, let’s raft across this river.”

Me: “Wow, so what do you think about this fence painting?”

Friend: “What are you talking about, Eric, they’re rafting across the river.”

Me: “No, you’re wrong, they’re painting a fence.”

Friend: “No you idiot, they’re rafting across the river!”

Me: “NO, THEY’RE PAINTING A GODDAMN FENCE.”

Friend: “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT WITH A FUCKING FENCE?!”

Me: “IT’S CLEAR AS DAY BRO! PAGE FIFTY GODDAMN FOUR!”

Friend: “Oh, page 54…” *flips book to page 54* “Oh yeah, that’s interesting. You know in the Chinese translation that I’m reading because I’m a Chinese speaker, the word ‘fence’ is translated as ‘barrier’, almost as if there’s a barrier between Tom and the rest of the gang.”

Me: “Oh wow, that’s so interesting. It really puts the whole story into another perspective that I wasn’t aware of until right now. Isn’t it great that we can learn from each other’s culture once we literally get on the same page?”

Friend: “Yeah, it’s really great how we can find strength in the nuance of our experiences once we come to agree on the overarching similarities that define said experience.”

Too many people like to say things like “diversity is our strength” without actually meaning it. And all that does is reduce it to another “liberal cliché”.

But it doesn’t have to be that.

There really is strength in diversity. There is because there’s so much to learn when we’re open to taking in new experiences that we’re unfamiliar with.

And those experiences can help us challenge our deeply held beliefs that set up all kinds of cultural and social barriers.

And in order to overcome that, we can’t focus on the difference. We have to focus on the similarity.

But Eric, what’s so similar about a cis white anti-Semitic male Trump supporter from Louisiana and a trans black Jewish female Communist from California?

The answer:

MORE STUFF THAN IS DIFFERENT.

They both:

  • Want to experience love.
  • Want to share that love with their community.
  • Want to be a part of a community that they can share that love with.
  • Want to provide for themselves and their family.
  • Want to be provided a safe environment to live in.
  • Want to be given access to the kinds of services that allow them to live comfortably.
  • Want to be acknowledged as having valid feelings and opinions based on their lived experiences.
  • Want to live a healthy, happy, and productive life.

And that’s just a small sampling of the emotional aspects. The physical aspects, relatively speaking, are nearly identical. Humans are 99.9% genetically identical. I didn’t make that number up

That person you hate/resent/fear, also:

  • Feels pain and does all they can to avoid feeling pain.
  • Bleeds when their skin is pierced.
  • Has a body that they use to experience the outer world.
  • Needs to eat food, drink water, and excrete waste.
  • Articulates feeling using some form of sense communication.
  • Loves to play and engage in various forms of entertainment.

Obviously, these lists are mere snippets of the similarities that every human shares. A list like this could extend indefinitely…

Now imagine that before the trans Jewish woman from California and the anti-Semite from Louisiana started attacking each other with their diversity, they spent a long time getting to know about each other’s similarities.

They shared a delicious meal together, they talked about how much they love their families, they talked about those times when they were in pain after losing a loved one, and they realized that they both loved watching Glee.

They’ve now built up a foundation of similarities from which they can expand.

They’ve created a bond of positivity from which they can now find strength as they tread on the murky ground of disagreement.

That’s how we should be treating division.

You don’t build peace by focusing on diversity; you do it by focusing on the commonalities.

Diversity Strength Bunny

“I’m hop-timistic that William S. Burrows can dig us out of this rabbit-hole of division.”

The Ethnostate

I’m writing this article from Israel – commonly referred to as an “ethnostate”.

But simply recognizing a common Jewish thread ignores the vastly different beliefs, ideals, and experiences each Israeli has.

For starters, many Israeli Jews are non-religious and Jewish only by blood. Many other Jews are ultra-orthodox. Some Jews are Sephardic. Some Jews are Ashkenazi. Some Jews have never prayed. Some Jews only pray on holidays. Some Jews pray multiple times a day. Some Jews eat lots and lots of pork. Some Jews love Benjamin Netanyahu. Some Jews think he’s the worst thing to happen to the Jews since the Holocaust. Some Jews won’t touch members of the opposite sex. Some Jews will have sex with anyone at any time…

The common thread of ethnic Judaism is loose. It is meant only to provide a stable foundation so that all Jews can feel free to express themselves however they wish.

Another important thing to note is that Israel welcomes any Jew from anywhere in the world, so the population of Israel is filled with immigrants from hundreds of different races – majority Caucasian, African, Asian, Hispanic, and Arabic countries are all well-represented in the Israeli population. And many Israelis are not Jewish at all. The above Jews are only 75% of the population, while 20% are non-Jewish Arab Israelis and the remaining 5% are other non-Jewish minorities.

But the people in Israel didn’t get together to be diverse.

They got together for a common purpose: To build a state where Jews could feel free to exist and live in a community with others who also share that common purpose. They are there because of the similarities. They have found strength because they all share a similar goal, not because they’re all different.

THEN, once they recognized and agreed on this common purpose, they were able to recognize and respect all of those differences. This plurality has helped Israel blossom into a religiously and culturally tolerant nation with a booming economy based largely on innovation and a perpetually rising quality of life.

Note: I realize ‘Israel stuff’ is sensitive for many people, but understand the politics of Israel is not the point of this article. The point is that the State of Israel has flourished largely due to a diversity of opinion brought about by a wide array of personal experiences coming together to rally behind a single, solitary idea.

 

Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say

“Diversity is our strength” is banal if you don’t understand and respect the person with whom you are disagreeing, regarding them as fundamentally different than you.

If you don’t recognize the commonalities and the shared purposes behind the opinions and experiences, regardless of how diverse they may or may not be, you won’t ever find the strength which lies there. It becomes another platitude in a sea of obnoxiously trite platitudes.

Start to actually live the ideals you preach.

Start to recognize that there is strength in diversity, but only if you do the immensely challenging work of first connecting with another based off of things which are fundamentally similar.

Start to understand that we are all here, together, as one, behaving in a strangely communal manner, feeling similarly, and working toward a common purpose – survival, betterment, and a never-ending search for happiness, fulfilment, and love.

Let’s start there, then we’ll talk about diversity.

Eric Michelson

Eric Michelson is a writer, blogger, philosopher, activist, artist, Buddhist, and mindfulness enthusiast. He is the founder of and editor-in-chief for Perspective Earth - an online discussion space for revolutionaries and thinkers. His lifelong mission is to serve and serve he will. You can follow him and PVEarth on Facebook and Twitter.

About The Author

Eric Michelson is a writer, blogger, philosopher, activist, artist, Buddhist, and mindfulness enthusiast. He is the founder of and editor-in-chief for Perspective Earth - an online discussion space for revolutionaries and thinkers. His lifelong mission is to serve and serve he will. You can follow him and PVEarth on Facebook and Twitter.

Related Posts