The Value of Diversity

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Some time ago, during a conversation I had with a relative, he made some disparaging comments about a particular religious group. When I asked him if he knew anyone from this religious group, he confessed he didn’t. Elizabeth Lesser, in her TED Talk “Take the Other to Lunch,” points out that when we don’t interact personally with people who think differently from us, it is much easier to vilify, demonize, and ostracize them, buying in to all the negative stereotypes.

Jeju Island, South Korea

Jeju Island, South Korea

Because I intentionally live a life filled with diversity, I am greatly surprised when I encounter statements by people I know that are disparaging of differing religious, social, and political points of view.  I feel my engagement with people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives has benefitted me greatly, not only by expanding my horizons but also by increasing my empathy. As I hear people’s stories and begin to understand their views, I find there is more that we have in common than may be immediately apparent.

In our own American history, we can see that greatness of mind is not threatened by difference of opinion. Two of our most honored presidents, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, both understood this. Washington chose his cabinet members from the diverse regions of the new United States, and Lincoln brought his political rivals into his cabinet to both unify his party and to get the best thinkers into each position. They both surrounded themselves with advisors who did not agree with them on all political points because they valued the differing perspective they brought to any decision.

If you have not embraced diversity in your own life, let me give you a few reasons, in addition to increased empathy, for why you might want to.

1.  Development of creativity – One of the key barriers to creativity is groupthink.  Introduce one person with a varying opinion to such a group, and suddenly you can look at the project or problem from a different perspective, opening the possibility of a fresh solution. According to creativity expert Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, “useful new ideas are likely to arise from centers where people from different cultural backgrounds are able to interact and exchange ideas.” This is also what Steven Johnson means by “liquid networks.”

2.  Richness of experience – The experiences I have had with people with different perspectives have enriched my life by giving me greater options in how to express myself and how to expend my effort. From the time I was a child, other cultures and other languages have intrigued me, and I have found them to be a rich source of variety.  They have also helped me to become more open to new experiences and given me reasons to travel to new places.

3.  Building of bridges – We live in a society of people who hold many different opinions on the issues of our day.  To live peacefully in our diverse society, we must find a way to live together, and I believe that can only be accomplished through dialogue.  If we want to find a place of dialogue, we have to interact with those from different backgrounds and different perspectives.  Without input from these perspectives, we take the notorious position of “colonizers” – imposing our view of how an issue should be approached without taking into consideration all those who may be affected by it.

Furthermore, I believe there is Biblical evidence, from Genesis to Revelation, that diversity is part of God’s original design for humanity.

  • In Genesis 22:18, God gives Abraham the promise that through him all nations of the earth will be blessed.  God is concerned with blessing all nations.
  • In Colossians 3:11, the Apostle Paul declares that in Christ there is neither Greek nor Jew, slave or free.  This seems to me to indicate that we are not to allow our differing perspectives to cause division within the Church, but rather we are to focus on relationship.
  • In Rev. 7:9, John sees a great crowd surrounding the throne of God in heaven made up of people from every nation, tribe, people and language.  This shows that God values the entire range of humanity.

To what extent do you value diversity in your own life?  What can you do today to increase your exposure to diversity?

 

Links and Resources

45 Bible verses about diversity

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – quote taken from “Implications for a Systems Perspective in the Study of Creativity,” chapter 16 in the Handbook of Creativity (2004)

 A recent article on the value of diversity that I discovered after writing this post:  5 Reasons to Make Friends Who Are Different From You: The perks of having a community of diversity.

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