Diversity – a friend or foe?
Glory be to God
for dappled things…
All things counter,
original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled
(who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour;
He fathers-forth whose beauty
is past change:
The Jesuit poet, G.M. Hopkins (1844-1889), sang his praise to the Creator and the diversity of His creation in Pied Beauty, the timeless jewel of a poem.
If diversity is God’s creation, all creatures are His children. In fathering-forth humanity God bestows to us His infinite beauty. But, as finite creatures, each one of us can reflect only one tiny spark of God’s infinite brightness.
Yet we humans are capable of transforming this source of joy and dignity into a cause of pain and misery. Diversity sustains us and threatens us at the same time. It defines us and terrifies us, and our fear mutates it into a monster called ‘differences’.
What is different becomes suspected and feared, making us rush too quickly into the false refuge called uniformity. We place our security in those we consider to be ‘like us’ or ‘ours’.
We rush to the comfort zone of ‘our nation’, ‘our party’, ‘our team’, ‘our gender’ as opposed to ‘aliens’, ‘opponents’ or ‘the opposite sex’. Thus, fear of diversity breeds division, conflict and wars.
In our society, in spite of our lip service to pluralism, we still have not found a way to live our diversity in the glorious, life-giving joy Hopkins sings about. Here I want to identify three main attitudes or reactions in front of diversity.
The first line of defence is classic denial: Differences should not exist. Only those who are ‘like us’ should survive. Let the contest begin and the fittest survive. We have just lived an intense sublimation of this in the Euro 2012, where the whole excitement rests on one team eliminating another. It’s the mechanism behind all competition, whether playful as in sports or lethal as in wars.
A second line of defence is false tolerance: You have permission to be different. Just do not disturb or threaten my identity or comfort. You have a right to be black and foreign, but not in my backyard, not in my home. It’s a ‘live and let live’ attitude, which characterises post-modern pluralism. We hide behind the banner of individual freedom to dismiss what others are living or saying.
In this intolerant tolerance the unstated position is: feel free to keep your convictions and beliefs. As far as I am concerned they might just as well not exist. Your differences are irrelevant to me. Is this not a more politically correct and sanitised form of denial and elimination of differences?
Is there a way for diversity to be the source of life and beauty Hopkins speaks about, instead of the source of division, death and misery we constantly witness around us?
Indeed there is. It is called humility, by which I mean uncompromising commitment to the truth. Or, let’s call it by its old-fashioned name: respect. Or, in simple popular idiom, let’s call a spade a spade!
If we had the humility to respect the fact that black is black and white is white, we might overcome our innate racism. If we had the courage to respect the fact that a man is a man and a woman is a woman, we might learn how to cope with homosexual tendencies without the need to redefine marriage and the human race.
If we humbly respected the truth that a man and a woman are indeed different, we might reconsider our strident cries of extreme feminism or any imbalanced view of work-life imbalances. If we embraced differences more than self-interest and power, our local political scene would not be in such a shocking mess.
A master of this deep and humble respect of the beauty and meaningfulness of diversity was Mother Teresa, the expert practician of religious ecumenism and inter-racial harmony. As she would put it: “What I can do you cannot do. But what you can do I cannot do. Together let us do something beautiful for God.”
The beauty of diversity can only be lived through togetherness. As long as we fear differences, diversity will remain a lethal threat and a disaster for humanity.
If, on the contrary, we humbly accept that each one of us is a limited yet unique spark of one Greater Brightness, we would be able to recognise God’s beauty in our brothers and sisters, not in spite of, but thanks to their differences in skin colour, political views, gender, faith convictions or sexual orientation. We would really see ourselves as what Hopkins called ‘dappled things’ through whom shines forth God’s glory.
Fr Chetcuti is from the Society of Jesus.