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The Transcendence of Diversity
January 9, 2016
A couple of decades ago, I did not see what was so great about diversity. Everybody was touting it. We were supposed to have diversity in schools, neighborhoods, the workplace, the boardroom, probably even the parking lot. But why, I asked myself. What difference did it make if my children’s school was all white (which it almost was)? Or if a neighborhood was all Irish, or Polish, or Chinese? Or a social club all male or all female or all straight or all gay?
Don’t get me wrong. I was opposed to deliberate discrimination. For example, I really disliked the fact that women were not allowed in the Rotary club until right around the time when I joined. The same goes for the Gideons, which I joined during my more evangelical period. Unlike Rotary, they were not about to admit women, and its sexism was a major reason why I did not stay very long. But I did not understand why it mattered if something just happened to attract a certain type of person without any deliberate exclusion. So birds of a feather tend to flock together. Why not?
Now I think I know the answer. I think the members of homogeneous groups are missing out on something important. They are limiting their experience of life. The point of diversity is not just to let outsiders in. It is also to let insiders out. To free them from the boundaries that have confined them. I now see diversity as a vehicle for transcending those boundaries. In practice, it is often about the Focus Five boundaries I keep talking about. Gender. Race. Religion. Class. Sexual Orientation. The specific issues are not just something I pulled out of thin air. They are categories that we really use to separate ourselves from other people. Diversity, however, brings us together. It lets us cross the largely arbitrary boundaries that segment our society. In other words, it transcends them. Diversity is transcendent.
If we look at diversity this way, we see it in a whole different light. It is no longer an obligation to include people we are not particularly comfortable with. It becomes an opportunity to transcend that discomfort and replace it with the pleasure of embracing the full richness of the human tapestry. Instead of contenting ourselves with the meat and potatoes of our regional diet, we free our palates to savor all the favors in all the cuisines of the world. To understand the nuances of the full gender spectrum. To appreciate what people of every race have to offer. To benefit from the insights of every religion. To value the backgrounds of people from every social class. To honor the love and commitment found among those of different sexual orientations.