From an early age, many of us are taught–explicitly or subliminally–about the importance of “fitting in”. From commercials to the schoolyard to family gatherings there are implicit messages about how to dress, how to act, and what to say in order to receive the approval of those around us.
Ultimately we end up forming relatively homogeneous groups with common values, common vocabularies, and common media consumption. If we don’t feel that commonality with our “bio family”, we tend to create communities of “chosen family” around ourselves with whom we can and do feel that commonality.
These feelings of warmth and acceptance are important, and valuable in our daily life. They allow us to feel safe, which is a critical component in personal development. They have been integral since humanity began, to bind communities together for safety and support.
But is homogeneity sustainable? When we look at the natural world we see that a forest or a jungle or a meadow with a broad diversity of species can survive and thrive for centuries without human intervention, whereas a field of one species needs extensive fertilizers, weed killers, pesticides, and other methods of assistance to flourish.
The reason is simple: Other species can provide the fertilizer, the pest control, and a variety of other forms of aid when they live in a community. From a food production perspective, permaculture makes more sense than monoculture.
It turns out that in our inter-personal relationships and communities, diversity is also an asset. Being exposed to a wider variety of perspectives, experiences, and influences helps us to be more successful and productive in our daily lives. They help us develop more flexibility and facility in our decision making, and open our eyes to options and ideas we might not otherwise be exposed to.
On a more immediate and personal level, embracing diversity enables us to embrace our own authenticity. We are less likely to forego or suppress the expression of our innate gifts in the interest of “fitting in”, if there isn’t a homogeneous group to “fit into” in the first place.
Our unique distinctiveness adds flavor to the global melting pot (or perhaps more accurately, global salad bowl) that is emerging. Distinctiveness that is sorely needed if the community as a whole is to thrive and be sustainable for the long run.
As you reflect on your daily life, how many diverse expressions and perspectives are you exposed to? Are there ways in which you can vary your exposure to include a wider variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, physical capability, and age?
When you do encounter people whose identity and expression differ from your own, do you allow yourself to internalize their insights? Or do you see them as being “other” than you or your community, and disregard them?
Every day represents a new opportunity for growth and change. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” From the macrocosm of global health and security to the microcosm of personal experience, being the change that promotes and supports diversity is the sustainable, effective choice. Who knows? Maybe one of the “others” will give you the tools you need to accomplish your deepest desire.