Spending time in diversity

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At the Happy Wall in Copenhagen! Photo credit: Me, 2014

Recently I started attending a church book study in which I am the youngest person by probably at least 15 years. This was definitely not intentional, but I do really like it. To hear the stories of people who have lived out their faiths for perhaps longer than I have been alive is pretty neat–gives me hope that I might just turn out okay, in the end!

I believe there is strength to be found in connecting with people who have different backgrounds and personalities, yet sometimes I, and perhaps you too, can shy away from making these connections. Why do we do this, and what is at stake?

First of all, diversity can be annoying

Older people sometimes talk about the “youth of today” and everything that is wrong with them. Younger people, meanwhile, can express frustration in this older population who they believe to be narrow-minded. We just don’t have the time or desire to deal with people who have different values or different types of solutions to the problems that we think we have under control.

It’s the same with introversion vs. extroversion. People who are charismatic and make friends easily can be annoying to an introvert who doesn’t possess these particular traits.

Personally, I think there is something deeper to this type of annoyance, something beyond the surface.

We can get annoyed at diversity when we sense we’re lacking something ourselves

There’s a powerful commercial on Canadian TV currently that shows a high school student taunting her fellow students in the hallway. At the end of the commercial, we hear her dishing out the worst criticism yet, but when the camera zooms out we see that she was directing it at herself, to her locker mirror. She was her own worst enemy.

Annoyance can come out of our own insecurities. Of course there are general annoyances, like getting stuck in rush hour traffic, that anyone could despise. What I’m talking about here, though, is the type of annoyance that causes us to want to stay separate from certain individuals or types of people. These are powerful annoyances that act as a barrier from achieving true diversity.

I’ll admit that I can have a tendency to instinctively “type” people–like, is this person apathetic or do they genuinely care for others? Are they discerning or do they mostly just follow where others lead them? I put people into these boxes and then decide what to do with them as a group. How impersonal is this!

It is my own sense of my deficiencies that cause me to do this. I know that I’m often not as empathetic as I could be, or as strong and independent as is possible. But at least I’m not like those people.

Diversity allows us to see past the tropes

When we take the time to interact with people of different ages, cultures, education levels, personalities, and so on, we are gifting ourselves with a great opportunity: to see people for who they are and what they have to bring to the world. Past the stereotypes, and into a fuller understanding of the complexities of people of all stripes.

We all have a lot to learn, and accepting diversity is one great way to get started.

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