If there is one cause that every man and woman breathing should support, it is this.
A future paradigm crucial to the preservation of mankind. A mantra supporting equal rights for all people. A shift of mindset that will make you a better, happier person.
We must consciously embrace diversity.
That is, we must appreciate the richness of difference that exists in our human family, empathize with all types of people, and wage war against discrimination.
The Beauty of Diversity
The human race is extraordinarily diverse in so many ways. Gender, ethnicity, race, class, religion, nationality, sexuality, philosophy, lifestyle. The areas in which we differ are endless.
Yet, at a basic level, we are all of the same human species. We experience highs and lows in life and strive to be happy and fulfilled.
Our common pains and joys are what bring us together, but our diversity makes us unique. It is what deems you or I our own special person, one who has never existed and will never exist again.
The diversity of our existence is beautiful, but people today are still entangled in a predicament, one that has plagued mankind since the beginning of time.
Discrimination on the basis of difference.
The list of major tragedies in our history that were caused solely by this phenomenon is mind-boggling. Slavery, the Holocaust, The Crusades, the genocide of the American Indian. The list could go on and on.
So many people have died or been deprived of basic rights because of a lack of understanding — an understanding that difference in appearance, belief, or way of life does not make one person better than another.
And, the problem still exists today.
There are still plenty of apparent examples all around us, with various religious wars and genocides happening all over the world. But, this problem takes less obvious forms as well, and you and I are not immune to its effects.
In most of our minds, we possess assumptions that make us judge, avoid, or act awkwardly towards people who are different than us. Here are a few examples.
Groups of friends at a college consisting almost entirely of individuals of the same race or ethnicity.
People using words like “retarded” or “Down’s” to refer to someone lacking in mental capacity.
A young woman avoiding an old friend after finding out that she is a homosexual.
Would-be husbands assuming their future wives will clean, cook, and take care of the kids.
A boss choosing to hire an employee whose name sounds more American than a more qualified applicant.
People often don’t realize that actions such as these are being informed by underlying biases against a group of people.
However, the people who are victimized know it all too well. Minor forms of discrimination happen constantly, all around us.
It’s Bad for Everyone
Consider the unnecessary struggles of those targeted by discrimination. Real people, just like you or I, feel alienated, bullied, despised, and mistreated every day. Many of them are being deprived of basic rights.
The reason why this lack of understanding is damaging to everyone is less clear-cut. It has to do with how we come to find true happiness.
Compassion refers to the love for and desire to help all people. Only through compassion can we find lasting joy. Compassion allows us to walk down the street and see only the faces of our brothers and sisters, of other humans living the same life as us.
Compassion allows us to realize our role in something much larger than ourselves. It allows us to forget our selfish desires and to strive to better the lives of the less fortunate. Truly caring for others fills us with purpose and peace.
Conversely, when our minds are polluted by prejudice, we pick out and focus on differences. We unknowingly waste much of our time criticizing and disliking others. This intolerance within us causes anger and resentment.
Hostility towards others eventually leaves us cold, calloused, and bitter. It causes us to become self-absorbed, caught up in our own struggles and fears.
Prejudice and unfair assumptions are the enemy of everyone. How can we overcome them?
The way to overcome our judgments and to realize real compassion and happiness is to work against them, constantly. Here are a few strategies.
1. Everyone’s Narrative – Consider your own life, and everything that has shaped your beliefs. Realize that each of the 7 billion people on this planet has their own narrative. Not one is the same.
2. Where are you coming from? – When you find yourself thinking poorly of someone, stop and consider what influences have created your negative views of that individual.
3. Befriend all people – If you know that you tend to avoid befriending certain types of people, go out of your way to find friends of all kinds.
4. Empathy – When you encounter anyone, try to imagine, understand, and sympathize with that person’s story, with everything that has made them who they are.
5. Actively accept – meditate upon embracing other people, with all of the diversity that comes with them. Don’t allow yourself to define a person based upon one stereotype about one aspect of their complex identity.
6. Show compassion – Perform random acts of kindness for all types of people. It can be as simple as a friendly smile or holding open a door.
Understanding and accepting people from all walks of life is key to finding peace in our lives. But beyond that, it is of the utmost importance to making the world a place where all can live freely and without fear.
So practice empathy, don’t be quick to judge, and envision life in another’s shoes before you treat them unfairly.
“The moment a little boy is concerned with which is a jay and which is a sparrow, he can no longer see the birds or hear them sing.”
― Eric Berne
How else can we strive for understanding and more fully embrace diversity?
*Photo Credit: Jesslee Cuizon (Creative Commons)